It is too often assumed that leaders are spontaneously granted with a universal understanding of ethics when they take the helm. Leader’s moral tenets are seldom assessed to ensure that they are compatible with the rest of the organization. And, a record of past successes makes it even more unlikely that the leader’s moral stance will be questioned or, at least, examined. Just look at the self-proclaimed King of All Media, Howard Stern.
Howard Stern is a radio icon. For over 30 years, he has dominated every market he’s ever worked. That’s right, every market. This plus his two bestselling books, multiple ventures on TV including hosting America’s Got Talent, his critically acclaimed movie, record setting appearances on the late night shows, and a rabidly loyal fanbase make Howard an unavoidable media powerhouse.
While Howard can be controversial – stunts with strippers, public disputes with management, and FCC fines are legendary – he also sets a high moral bar. This may not always have been the case.
In the first few years Howard was gaining popularity, he admittedly was obsessive to the point of destruction. He said whatever he was thinking; consequences were inconsequential. Every show had to be better, edgier than the last. In the heat of a conversation, Howard would say some pretty hateful things. It was entertaining, but sometimes you winced more than you laughed.
Over the years, Howard’s ethics have progressed. He has taken on more public service, and is an advocate for various charities. On air, Howard seems to choose his words more carefully. He still enjoys a good fight, but his rants are less venomous and more fact-based. He has made up with many of his celebrity targets (Chevy Chase, Rose O’Donnell, etc), going so far as to apologize for things he’s done and said.
I had something to prove to the world, to my father, to every woman…it was all over the place. I’m not saying I’m fully evolved now. I’m not Buddha. Sometimes it’s hard for me to accept that I don’t have every listener and I haven’t written every good joke. I get competitive. But that’s no way to live. I’m tired of walking around angry. It’s a burden. And that’s why I’m trying to find balance. – Howard Stern
As Howard shows, experience is a great teacher. He learned the hard way. Thankfully, there are faster, less painful ways to develop one’s ethics.
James Rest, a leading expert on morality, identified a few key components that must be developed for someone to be ethically mature. These elements allow the leader to recognize an ethical dilemma, select an acceptable course of action, sustain the desire to take action, and have the character to see the plan through.
Over the next few articles, the troupe of the Howard Stern Show will guide us through these components and discuss what you can do to improve your virtues.
This is the first in a four part series. For the other chapters of this series, check out:
2/ Fred Norris on Moral Sensitivity
3/ Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate on Moral Judgments
4/ Robin Quivers on Moral Motivation