A Paradox of an unethical person delivering an ethics presentation

Consulting a doctor who advises against smoking, only to find out they smoke themselves, mirrors the challenge of imparting moral guidance while struggling to practice it. Despite understanding the health risks, the doctor’s personal habits raise questions about his ability to apply  theoretical knowledge to real-life decisions. Does this change him from being an exceptional doctor who can still save lives? Similarly,  while instilling integrity in their children, does not guarantee their flawless behaviour when faced with ethical challenges. Does this take away the title of being a parent?

Hence the question, can an unethical person effectively deliver an ethics presentation? The goal of a presenter is to influence their audience to act on the topic at hand. Should we prioritize the presenter’s expertise over their character? Or should we consider both content and presenter congruence? While presenting is a skill that can be learned, integrity is inherent. Authenticity and credibility are crucial in delivery. Striking a balance between content and presenter is key to persuasion. Recent instances of organisations inviting ethically questionable individuals to speak on ethics have sparked concerns about their decision-making.

While it is theoretically possible for an ethically questionable person to deliver an ethics presentation, there are several significant caveats and considerations to bear in mind.

  1. Credibility and trust:The credibility of the presenter is paramount in delivering an ethics related presentation. An individual with a known history of unethical behaviour may lack the trust and credibility necessary to effectively communicate ethical principles and inspire others to uphold them. Some of the audience members may question the sincerity and authenticity of the presenter’s message, undermining the effectiveness of the presentation.
  2. Hypocrisy and inconsistency:Presenting on ethics while demonstrating unethical behaviour can be perceived as hypocritical and inconsistent. Audience members may perceive a misalignment between the presenter’s words and actions, diminishing the impact of the presentation and potentially undermining the presenter’s credibility in the eyes of the audience.
  3. Ethical role modelling:Presenters of ethics related presentations are often expected to serve as role models for ethical behaviour. An unethical individual may struggle to fulfil this role effectively, as their own behaviour may not align with the ethical principles they are advocating. This discrepancy can diminish the effectiveness of the presentation and undermine the presenter’s ability to inspire ethical behaviour in others.
  4. Ethical dilemmas:Presenting on ethics may involve addressing complex ethical dilemmas and guiding the audience in navigating them effectively. An unethical presenter may lack the moral authority and insight necessary to provide meaningful guidance on ethical decision-making, limiting the value of the presentation for the audience.
  5. Reputational risks:Associating with an unethical presenter or allowing them to deliver an ethics related presentation can carry reputational risks for the organisation or institution hosting the presenter. It may send conflicting messages about the organisation’s commitment to ethics and integrity, potentially damaging its reputation and credibility in the eyes of stakeholders.

Now, let us explore some key qualities and benefits for a presenter delivering an ethics presentation:

  1. Integrity: Demonstrating personal integrity by aligning actions with ethical principles enhances credibility and trustworthiness.
  2. Expertise: Possessing a deep understanding of ethical frameworks, principles, and real-world applications strengthens the presenter’s authority and enhances the quality of the presentation.
  3. Communication skills: Effective communication skills, including clarity, persuasiveness, and engagement, help convey ethical concepts and insights to the audience in a compelling manner.
  4. Authenticity: Being genuine and authentic in delivering the presentation fosters connection and resonance with the audience, reinforcing the message, and increasing its impact.
  5. Empathy: Demonstrating empathy and understanding towards the audience’s perspectives and concerns helps bridge gaps and facilitates meaningful dialogue on ethical issues.
  6. Transparency: Being transparent about one’s own ethical challenges and experiences fosters openness and trust, encouraging the audience to reflect on their own moral dilemmas and decisions.
  7. Leadership: Exemplifying ethical leadership qualities, such as accountability, fairness, and responsibility, inspires others to emulate these values and behaviours in their own lives and organisations.
  8. Inspiration: Inspiring and motivating the audience to embrace ethical principles and take positive action can lead to meaningful change and contribute to a culture of integrity and accountability.
  9. Impact: Delivering an ethics presentation that resonates with the audience and prompts reflection and action, can have a lasting impact on individuals, organisations, and society.
  10. Reputation: Enhancing one’s reputation as a thought leader and advocate for ethics can lead to increased opportunities for collaboration, influence, and professional advancement.

In conclusion, the question of whether an unethical person can effectively deliver an ethics presentation underscores the complexities of ethics, integrity, and credibility in communication. While theoretical knowledge and presentation skills are valuable, the inherent trust and credibility of the presenter play a crucial role in influencing audience perception and action. Ethical dilemmas arise when individuals tasked with delivering ethics presentations do not embody the principles they advocate, leading to questions about authenticity and role modelling.

The paradox of unethical individuals delivering ethics presentations highlights the importance of prioritising integrity and congruence between the presenter and the content. Organisations must carefully consider the reputational risks and ethical implications of inviting ethically questionable individuals to speak on ethics, weighing the potential impact on trust, credibility, and organisational culture.

On the other hand, ethical presenters who demonstrate integrity, expertise, authenticity, empathy, and leadership qualities can effectively inspire and motivate their audience to embrace ethical principles and take positive action. By aligning actions with ethical values and fostering a culture of integrity and accountability, presenters can have a meaningful impact on individuals, organisations, and society, ultimately contributing to positive change and ethical sustainability.

Palesa Mashabane is an ethics subject matter expert at The Ethics Institute.