Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ethical Leadership

Leadership Ethics

o    Very little research has been published on the theoretical foundations of leadership ethics.

o    There has been many studies on leadership, but little has been related to leadership.

o    One of the first leadership ethics writings appeared in 1996 by W.K. Kellogg


Ethics defined

o    Development of ethics theory dates back to Plato and Aristotle.

o    It is concerned with the kinds of values and morals an individual or society finds desirable.

o    These are rules and principles that provide the basis for understanding what it means to be a morally decent human being.

o    The choices that leaders make and how they respond to a given circumstance are informed and directed by their ethics.


Ethical theories

Ethical leadership theories fall into two categories

o    Leader's conduct (Their actions)

                                    i.            Consequences (Theological theories) - Focus on what is right and what is wrong.

1.       Ethical Egoism - An individual should act to create the greatest good for themselves. A leaders should take a career that they would selfishly enjoy (Avolio & Locke, 2002). This is closely related to transactional leadership theories. For example, a middle-level manager who wants their team to be the best in the company is acting out of ethical egoism.

2.       Utilitarianism - We should act to create he greatest good for the greatest number. Maximize the social benefits while minimizing the social costs (Shumann, 2001). Example: when the US government allocates a large portion of the federal budget to the health care instead of catastrophic illness, it is acting out of the utilitarian ethics.

3.       Altruism -  This is the opposite of Ethical Egoism and is concerned with showing the best interest for others even when it runs contrary to self-interest. Authentic transformational leadership is based on altruistic behavior (Bass, Steidlmeier, 1999).

                                  ii.            Duty (Deontological Theories)

§  This is telling the truth, keeping promises, being fair, independent of the consequences.

§  Actions should not infringe on others' rights and should not further the moral rights of others.

               Leader's character (Who they are)

                     Virtue-based theories -

1.       These are not innate, but can be acquired.

2.       They are rooted in heart of the individual and in their disposition.

3.       It focuses on telling people  "what to be" as opposed of "what to do"

4.       Examples include courage, temperance, generosity, self-control, honesty, sociability, modesty, fairness, and justice.

5.       This theory is about being  and becoming a worthy human being.


Centrality of ethics to leadership

o    The influence dimension of a leader requires that they have an impact on the lives of those they lead. To make a change in other people carries with it an enormous amount of ethical burden and responsibility.

o    Leaders have an ethical responsibility to treat followers with dignity, respect, as a human being with unique identities.

o    The "respect for people" demands that a leader be sensitive to follower's own interests, needs, and conscientious concerns.

o    Leaders play an important role in establishing the ethical climate of the their organizations.


Heifetz's Perspective on Ethical leadership

o    A psychiatrist who observed world leaders.

o    His approach emphasizes how leaders help followers confront conflict and effect changes from conflict. It is about helping followers deal with conflicting values that emerge in rapidly changing work environments and social cultures.

o    His approach deals with values.

o    Leaders must utilize authority to immobilize people to face tough issues.

o    The leader provides the holding environment in which there is trust, nurturance, and empathy.

o    The leader's duty is to assist followers in struggling with change and personal growth.


Burns's Perspective on Ethical leadership

o    Transformational leadership places a strong emphasis on followers' needs, values, and  morals.

o    It involves attempts by leaders to move followers to higher standards of responsibility.

o    It is the responsibility of the leader to help followers assess their own values and needs in order to raise them to a higher level of functioning, to a level that will stress values such a liberty, justice, and equality.


Greenleaf's Perspective on Ethical leadership

o    He developed a paradoxical approach to leadership called "Servant leadership" in 1970s

o    It gained increased popularity in recent years.

o    It has a strong altruistic ethical overtone and emphasizes that leaders should be attentive to concerns or their followers.

o    He argued that leadership was bestowed on a person who is by nature a servant. The way an individual becomes a leader is by first being a servant.

o    A servant leader focuses on the needs of the followers and helps them become more knowledgeable, more free, more autonomous and more like servants themselves.

o    Servant leader has a social responsibility to be concerned with the have-nots and to recognize them as equal stakeholders in the organization.

o    Greenleaf places a great deal of emphasis on listening, empathy, and unconditional acceptance of others.

o    Many of these ethical theories emphasis that the relationship between leader-follower is an "ethical" one and it s related to the "caring principle"(Gilligan, 1982).


Principles of ethical leadership

Northouse has listed five principles of ethical leadership. Actually the origins of these

can  be  traced  back  to Aristotle.    These  principles  provide  a  foundation  for  the  development  of

sound ethical leadership. According to these principles ethical leaders respect others, serve others,

are just,  are honest and  build community. To be  an  ethical  leader, we must  be  sensitive  to  the

needs of others, treat others in ways that are just and care for others.



1.       Ethical leaders respect others

o    Immanuel Kant argues that it is our duty to treat others with respect. One should treat others as ends in itself and never as means to an end.

o    Beauchamp and Bowie (1988) pointed out that "Persons must be treated as having their autonomously established goals and must never be treated purely as the means to another person's goals."

o    Leaders who respect also allow others to be themselves.  They approach others with a sense of unconditional worth and value individual differences (Kitchener, 1984)

o    Respect means giving credence to others' ideas and confirming them as human beings.

o    A leader should nurture followers in becoming aware of their own needs, values, and purposes.

o    Respect means that a leader listens closely to their subordinates, is empathetic, and tolerant to opposing views.

o    When a leader exhibits respect, subordinates feel competent about their work.

2.       Ethical leaders serve others

o    This is based on the concern for others (Ethical egoism)

o    This is an example of altruism.

o    An example of this is observed in mentoring, empowerment, behaviors, and team building.

o    Very similar concept to the "Beneficence" that is taught to health professionals.

o    Senge contended that one of the important tasks of leaders in learning organizations is to be a steward (servant) of the vision within the organization and highlights the importance of not being self-centered, but integrating one's self or vision with the vision of the organization.

3.       Ethical leaders are Just

o    Justice demands that leaders place the issue of just at the center of their decision making.

o    No one should be treated differently unless their particular situation demands it and if that is the case, then the rules for differential treatment should be made clear.

o    Good coaches are those who never have favorites and those who make a point of playing everyone in the team.

o    The golden rule (Rawls, 1971) is to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

o    The principles of distributive justice includes:

                                    i.            To each person, and equal share.

                                  ii.            According to individual needs

                                 iii.            According to that person's rights

                                iv.            According to individual efforts

                                  v.            According to societal contribution

                                vi.            According to merit.

4.       Ethical leaders are honest

o    Being honest is not just about telling the truth. It has to do with being open with others, representing reality as fully and a completely as possible.

o    There are times of course where telling the complete truth can be destructive and counter productive. The challenge is to strike a balance.

o    It is important for leaders to be authentic, but sensitive to the attitudes And feelings of others.

o    Dala Costa (1998) made a point in the Ethical Imperative book. "Do not promise what you can't deliver, do not misrepresent, do not hide behind spin-doctored evasions, do not suppress obligations, do not evade accountability, do not accept  the 'survival of the fittest' pressures"

5.       Ethical leaders build community

o    Leadership is often defined as the "process of influencing others to reach a common or communal goal." This definition has a clear ethical dimension.  The common goal implies that leaders and followers agree on the directions of the group.

o    Authentic transformation means that a leader cannot impose their will on other. They need to search for goals that are compatible with everyone.

o    Ethical leadership demands attention to civic virtue (Rost, 1991). This means that both leaders and followers need to attend to community goals and not just their mutually determined goals.


Maybe the most important thing is to realize that leadership involves values; one cannot be a leader

without being aware of and concerned about one’s own values.   We can say also that  rather than

telling people what to do, we should tell them what to be and help them to become more virtuous.

When practiced over time good values become habitual and a part of the persons themselves.



o    It provides some direction in how to think about ethical leadership and how to practice it.

o    It reminds us that leadership is a moral process. Other than the transformational theory of Burns, no other theory considered or highlighted ethics.

o    It describes some basic principles that we can use in developing real-world ethical leadership. These ethics have bee present for over 2000 years.



o     It is still in an early stage of development. It lacks a strong body of traditional research.

o    This area of research relies on the writing of a few individuals, whose work has been primarily descriptive and anecdotal.


Leadership instrument

Craig and Gustafson (1998) developed the Perceived Leader Integrity Scale (PLIS).  It is based on the Utilitarian ethical theory. It evaluates leaders' ethics by measuring the degree to which subordinates see them as acting in ways that produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

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