8. The Paradox of Right and Wrong

Author : Jennifer Board

In this chapter, Jennifer Board explores the territory of ethics and leadership and the difficulties that are inherent when values come into conflict with one another. The right course of action may become unclear. We may even face a choice between two apparent wrongs. Jennifer brings a wealth of diverse experience having worked as an army officer, a district commissioner for the girl guides, a primary school teacher, an English tutor, a training officer and numerous Human Resources roles in media, manufacturing, banking and insurance, which together involved her living in Germany, Belize, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and London.

  • Ethics
  • Moral Dilemmas and Decision Making
  • Relevance to Leadership
  • Moral Courage
  • The Challenge of the Paradox
Questions for reflection and discussion  
  1. What examples of behaviours that you regard as ‘right’ come easily to mind? What examples of ‘wrong’? Make a list of each, and consider why you put each example on the list. What makes it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’?
  2. Thinking about truth, when would you lie – for example, to avoid hurting someone’s feelings)? When would you want someone else to lie to you – for example, to avoid hurting your feelings)?
  3. Think of a recent ethical/moral dilemma that you have experienced either at work or at home. Consider this memory for five minutes, remembering what the options were, why you made the decision you did, what rationale you used and what (if any) were the consequences then and for your future decision making. If you are studying this chapter as part of a group, you could split into pairs for ten minutes and discuss these individual moral dilemmas. What have you learned from this exercise?
  4. What does the organisation you work with most believe in? What are its values? Make a list of these. Then, write down a similar list of your own values and beliefs. How far do the two lists correlate?
  5. Even though we consider moral courage to be desirable, might there be times when the personal cost of courage is too high? Under what circumstances would you feel compelled to compromise your principles? Think about this, and discuss the question with others around you to see if they feel the same.