(1) Values The Key to Effective Ethical Leadership
The lack of ethical leadership is a pervading factor in today’s society. Although interest in ethical leadership has increased dramatically, ethics in the global context of leadership has not been a subject of great discourse. Examining the essential role of values and ethics in the quest for effective leadership is the subject of this article.
Public concern about the ethical performance of leaders in developed and developing countries has grown over the last decade. This concern stems from the apparent proliferation of unethical leadership behaviour that permeates all levels of society. Examples of unethical behaviour transcend location, continents, nations, and people. One needs to only look at the number of news reports and what appears to be an accompanying flow of continuous unethical acts by renowned leaders to be convinced that there is a dire need for effective intervention.
In “Leading From Within,” educational writer and consultant Parker Palmer introduces a powerful metaphor to dramatize the distinction between ethical and unethical leadership. According to Palmer, the difference between moral and immoral leaders is as sharp as the contrast between light and darkness.
He further notes that a leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live and move, conditions that can either be as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A leader must take special responsibility for what is going on inside his or her own self, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good. (Palmer, 1996)
The role of values as a key to effective ethical leadership cannot be overemphasized. The relationship between ethical leadership and values is so intricately intertwined that one can hardly be discussed without referring to the other. Values are the driving force of a leader’s lifestyle and determine priorities in decision making. Values are what leaders stand for and what they are willing to die for. Values therefore form those intangible things that are most important and are foundational. However, it is worth noting that every value has a system, normally referred to as a value system. Every system, in turn, has a source. According to Webster’s dictionary a “system” is a complex of methods or rules governing behaviour. It can also be viewed as a procedure or process for obtaining an objective. A “source” on the other hand denotes the point at which something springs into being or from which it derives or is obtained.
The key to effective leadership is to understand the set of methods or rules governing behavior that stem from the source and to thereafter apply the procedures required to attain our objectives. As global leaders, values are given to us by a higher being beyond ourselves (our value source) and are based on unique belief system. Values should therefore become foundational to who we are and what we do as leaders.
The need to hold global leaders to a standard of values that stem from an unchanging system is critical. In this age of globalization where competent leaders will strategically become part of important global decision making, there is a need for a firm basis of a higher system of value-driven decision making in leadership.
Values are relevant in two ways. Firstly, values, such as integrity, honesty and truthfulness apply as a general guide for behavior externally in the market place. Secondly, and more importantly, values should serve as an internal compass for the basis of rational thinking and decision-making. When values conflict, it is useful first to identify the specific source and system the value in question emanates from. It is also necessary to question the assumptions that under gird this value. The next step involves a decisive decision by the leader as to whether engagement in...