Ethical leaders go above & beyond

As an executive in the financial services industry for more than 40 years, Bob MacDonald noticed that too often, job applicants looked at ethics as nothing more than a set of rules. They would meet the minimum ethical standard just to get by.

That wasn’t enough to produce real leaders, he thought, so MacDonald decided to train young people in ethical leadership.

After 20 years as a CEO of major corporations, he founded Old MacDonald’s Ethical Leadership Farm to teach children that ethical people do the right things even when they aren’t required. They go above and beyond the rules.

Based on the mess our nation is in, “it’s obvious that past leadership training has been insufficient,” says Bryan McGinley, an elementary school principal in Minnesota whose school was the first to adopt the program. “We need to teach the ethical aspect of leadership if we are to continue to have a strong country.”

Here are five tenets of MacDonald’s philosophy:

1. Teach and learn. Nobody becomes a leader in isolation.

2. Share the stakes. Letting everybody on the team take on its problems and solutions draws out their best work.

3. Become an architect. Envision the future you want, draw a blueprint and build it. Sounds easy. It’s not, but you can do it anyway.

4. Show, don’t tell. To move your agenda forward, bite your tongue, listen, open the books and in every way create an environment where your people feel comfortable enough to come forward and share their thoughts.

5. Become ridiculously ethical. If you care more for your people than you thought was possible, bite the bullet to uphold your organization’s integrity and do more for your customers than normal standards require, you will achieve great things.

— Adapted from Old MacDonald’s Ethical Leadership Farm, Bob MacDonald,