Ethical Leadership and Cases in Leadership

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Ethical Leadership
Leaders spend most of their time learning how to do their work and helping other people learn how to do theirs, yet in the end, it is the quality and character of the leader that determine the performance and results. —Frances Hesselbein1 We say these are the values of the organization, and we all live them. Then, no matter what the situation, we never think, “Well, I can be slightly unethical today, but tomorrow I’ll be better.” It doesn’t work that way. No matter how difficult the circumstances become, we stand and we act on principle. —Frances Hesselbein2



his chapter presents a guide to ethical decision making in situations that will confront you as a leader and discusses several ethical perspectives that should help you make ethical decisions. There is constant debate as to where a chapter on ethics should appear in any book (e.g., textbooks, casebooks). In this book, we decided to place it last. We do this for one very specific reason. We want ethics and its intersection with leadership to be the last thing you read and consider as you finish your course on leadership. In our own teaching and research, we are struck by the number of times that what seem to be innocuous decisions can turn into very dicey ethical situations. Leaders are often presented with situations that require them to think through several ethical dimensions before making decisions. Consequently, we hope and expect that this chapter will be one you return to many times as you develop as a leader in the organization you join after you finish your current degree. Concern regarding leaders and their ethics has been central to everyday life throughout our history. Unfortunately, it is also a very messy topic to research. Consequently, research regarding leaders 1 2

Bunker, Hall, and Kram (2010, p. 138). Bunker et al. (2010, p. 141).




and their ethics is very sparse (Yukl, 2012). Recent research (Ciulla, 1998; Phillips, 2006) has begun to delve into these issues. Ciulla (1998) discusses how leadership theory and practices may lead to a more just and caring society. Phillips (2006) defines CEO moral capital as “the belief that the CEO justly balances the disparate interests of individual and group stakeholders to achieve positive returns that benefit the firm, its stakeholders, and the CEO.” This definition describes how CEOs and other individuals are viewed by their followers, peers, and superiors and, as Phillips (2006) argues, is based on their perception of the CEO’s (or an individual’s) character and behavior. yy

A Definition of Ethics

In the Western world, the definition of ethics dates back to Plato and Aristotle. Ethics comes from ethos, a Greek word meaning character, conduct, and/or customs. It is about what morals and values are found appropriate by members of society and individuals themselves. Ethics helps us decide what is right and good or wrong and bad in any given situation. With respect to leadership, ethics is about who leaders are—their character and what they do, their actions and behaviors. yy

Ethical Theories

As suggested above, ethical theories fall into two broad categories: those theories related to leaders’ behavior and those related to leaders’ character. For those theories related to conduct, there are two types: those that relate to leaders’ conduct and their consequences and those that relate to the rules or duty that prescribe leaders’ conduct. Those theories related to consequences are called teleological theories (telos being a Greek word for purposes or ends). These theories emphasize whether a leader’s actions, behavior, and/or conduct have positive outcomes. This means that the outcomes related to a person’s behavior establish whether the behavior was ethical or unethical. Those theories related to duty or rules are called deontological theories (deos being a Greek word for duty). These theories focus on the actions...
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