All businesses you know: Zambeef, Investrust Bank, Trade Kings, Chimsoro and thousands around us represent the character of the individuals who own them. A business purely represents your personal philosophy and you will run it according to your ideas. For example, at Bridges Limited, we have a strong philosophy that says, ‘We have no competitors- we leverage one another’. In essence, the position represents the character of one of its founders who believes in bringing everyone with similar skills on board.

There is one business I knew as an angry and aggressive business. Its pricing structure was usually on a very high side and non-negotiable. Employers were equally non-compromising to customers. It was so aggressive that before clients would associate with it, they had to be sure they would not go back with the promise to confirm the contract later. If you were not sure, why did you approach them in the first place?

For some reason, the business relatively boomed and had clients of similar character. The owner of the business was a bully! On the many occasions I had the courage to visit him (not as a time waster), he was literally shouting at staff. I overhead him speak to a client on one occasion via a phone and swear words were liberally thrown around in the conversation. I realised at that moment that humble and discerning leaders produce humble and discerning businesses. Corrupt and unethical business leaders reflect their character in the business.

There is no better time to talk about ethical leadership in business than now. Entrepreneurs ought to be encouraged about the importance of keeping their word, managing the business as expected by the law and conducting all affairs of the enterprise without unnecessarily hurting others. Our country is now home to entrepreneurs of mixed character.

To ensure your business is sustainable and benefits this and future generations, I advise that you anchor your business on ethical leadership. It will cost you some fortune for now but not tomorrow. Always remember, like I have emphasised in numerous corporate governance training programmes, ‘Your reputation before a crisis will take you out of a crisis’. Everyone will seem to be on your side when the world is looking up from your window. However, the day you face a business crisis, hardly anyone, including your clients, will want to identify with you.

The first thing you should always do as a business leader is to set your tone about the required ethical conduct. The other day, one of my staff members was caught by police for an expired car fitness certificate during the recent long holiday. I asked him what he was going to do. He said the police officer wanted K100 to release the vehicle. ‘Over my dead body, Sir,’ he narrated. ‘I will pay the K300 tomorrow when banks are open using my money.’

I felt that was a huge statement. The company’s values have become the values of the employees. The reason is that the leader in the business has set a strong tone about what can be tolerated, accepted and rejected. Leaders draw the line and they lead by example. There is no use distributing value statements to employees when your conduct as business leader speaks the opposite.

The second thing you should know is that ethical leadership is significant capital investment in the business. Even in the most corrupt environments, businesses still want to deal with credible and well managed businesses. Even a prostitute does not want to marry a gigolo; women of the night want to marry men of the day.

You will most likely be out of business if your business dealings are above board. However, rest assured that when it really matters, big businesses will want to deal with you. The kind attracts its own kind and there will always be businesses that will look for its kind.

Third, ethical leadership takes responsibility. I have followed the issues that my successor at Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, Richard Mwanza, has been handling since taking over. Some of those challenges were created at the time I led the organisation. Even if I am long gone, I should take responsibility for some actions and inactions.

In fact, when we had some discussion late last year, I told him I also inherited problems created by my predecessor and he will equally leave problems in future. It means that when we lead organisations, we should always bear in mind there will come a time we take full responsibility for whatever we did. Ethical leadership owns up, takes responsibility whatever the mitigating circumstances because, like John Maxwell says, everything rises and falls with leadership. Ethical leaders drive the vision, steer the ship and keep it in the right lane.

For any enquiries regarding this article, reach me on 0976572693 or chibamba@bridges-limited.com