Ethics and Leadership

In recent years, the demand for ethical leadership has been growing tremendously and researchers have begun to consider the ethical implications in leadership. Yet the supply remains low, as evidenced by the large number of recent business scandals. In these circumstances the leaders as well as the followers did not have had the courage and the skills to act on their values in the face of fear.

In response to such scandals, leaders should rethinking conceptions about the origin of competitive advantage, which increasingly originates from how we behave rather than what we produce. We should rethink how to lead, by placing less emphasis on carrots and sticks and focusing more on inspiration and humanity. These efforts require ethical leadership, which inspires peoples’ behaviours and paves the ground for creating competitive advantage. Such ethical leadership is the basis for ethical cultures, corporate social responsibility, sustainability and other concepts such as the triple bottom line.

Hence, the crucial question arises how leaders become ethical leaders in order to satisfy the pressing demand for ethical leadership.

Just as most people are not born leaders (but rather learn to be so through experience and hard work) people learn to practice ethical leadership. Not for nothing does a dominant part of the literature on leadership address the fact that it can and must be taught. A coherent ethical framework or philosophy that the leader can draw on in making decisions does not pop into the head overnight. Rather it develops over time through personal background and history, experience, as well as education. At this stage, let me propose some potential guidelines for fostering and nourishing ethical leadership:

  1. View the world as interconnected and face the complexity involved in making ethical decisions by developing multidisciplinary solutions. In the same time, view ethical leadership as integrated system of relationships that operate across hierarchical levels.
  1. Embed assumptions and expectations concerning ethics among organizational members. Because leaders set the moral tone for an organization, they need to set high ethical standards and demonstrate them through their own behaviour.
  1. Involve others in more of the ethical decisions, allocate resources to improve others’ ethical understandings and encourage and reward integrity in others.
  1. Do not separate ethics from day-to-day business and integrate ethics into every action of the organization.
  1. Cultivate a respectful environment, in which people can speak up about ethics and share the responsibility, by building trust and demanding open communication.

However, these are only some insights of how ethical leadership can be fostered and nourished. The aspects raised in this blog entry point to the conclusion that there is much to learn about how and why ethical leadership needs to be developed and nourished in organizations and throughout society as a whole. Answering such questions calls for a multidisciplinary approach, drawing on content from several other disciplines including leadership, psychology, economics and ecology. The marriage between ethics and leadership reveals a new discipline, which is likely to grow in importance in the coming years.



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