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The Five or the One? Leaders make impossible decisions

Ethics and the theories behind ethical thinking have come up constantly throughout my life and my degree. I’m sure many of you would have had a similar experience of having at least one unit touch on the importance of ethical practice within your field of study. Throughout the course of the Global Leadership Program, I have taken part in a number of activities that not only touch on, but emphasise, the prominence of ethical practices within society. One Colloquium in particular, 'Ethical Thinking and Leadership', really opened my eyes to the importance of lifelong learning and social citizenship.

The GLP’s underlying purpose is to empower us to be leaders of tomorrow, who are able to connect and communicate across cultures. We are encouraged to not only be a leader, but to promote leadership amongst others, in an attempt to build a better world. The Colloquium, ‘Ethical Thinking and Leadership’, revealed that the connection between ethics and leadership lies when it becomes YOUR responsibility to know what is the best way to act in a given situation. Three principles in particular were highlighted as essential in a leader when dealing with ethical situations: consistency, transparency and accountability. Through expanding our views, knowledge and understanding of the world around us we will be able to utilise these principles to empower us through challenging decisions.

When I was asked to think about what the term ethics and morals mean to be me, it took me a while to actually come up with an answer. In my mind, ‘ethical’ and ‘moral’ acts felt engraved into my life by the communities and groups I had been a part of and the cultural norms that I have been surrounded by. I just ‘knew’ what was right and wrong. It hit me then, that for some people, these preconceived perceptions would be different. What could be right for me might not necessarily be right for them. Further discussion amongst the Colloquium participants revealed that my preconceptions were indeed the norm – each individual’s ethical thinking was influenced by their differing life experiences. So, if right and wrong is different for everyone, how do you become a good leader within contemporary society? How do you direct and guide in the hopes for change?

Whether at school, during a lecture or while talking amongst friends, you have probably heard of ‘The Trolley Problem’ thought experiment that was presented to us by Dr. Mianna Lotz. To sum it up briefly the thought experiment is; You are a remote-control railway controller of a train system. The train goes out of control and approaches Tunnel One: five children playing on the track. You have the option to change the direction of the train to head towards Tunnel Two: a rail worker completing authorised track repair.

Which option would you choose?

A majority came to the same consensus; one death is better than five as fewer lives are lost. As a result, this means less pain and suffering. However, there were a few who thought that keeping the train on the path it was already on would mean it wasn’t really your fault as it was ‘fate’ that the train was set on that path. For me personally, there was so much to think about - does the one man have five kids of his own? Is he the sole provider for his family? If I save the five kids, do they grow up to follow an immoral path? Were the kids doing the wrong thing on purpose? Does it make it my fault if I continue to take the path the train is already set on? Am I purposefully killing a human being if I make the decision to turn the track towards tunnel two?

So many questions come to mind. And this is the same for many situations that you can be put in as a leader. There will always be questions. And many of the time these questions won’t be able to be answered there and then. But the reality is, in the moment, your mind has to come up with the best possible solution for the problem put in front of you. For me, five innocent kids’ vs one grown man will always be a tough decision - but my instant decision would be to do the most good - and that would be to choose to save the five.

Whatever the choice, it may be a hard one to make but being able to rationalise your choice is key. Being a leader requires you to always act in a manner that brings forth the best possible consequences. Being a leader means promoting peace and inclusiveness. Being a leader means making responsible and justified decisions, acting with transparency, accountability and inclusion. Participating in a variety of Colloquia is just one way you can equip yourself with a range of knowledge and tools that you can harness during moments of leadership. Not only does expanding your knowledge assist you in making the ‘best’ decision for any given situation, but it also enables you to be a leader – the leader you were born to be.

Angelica is currently in the 4th year of a Bachelor of Marketing and Media degree.

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