Ethical leadership is leadership that is involved in leading in a manner that respects the rights and dignity of others. As leaders are by nature in a position of social power, ethical leadership focuses on how leaders use their social power in the decisions they make, actions they engage in and ways they influence others. Leaders who are ethical demonstrate a level of integrity that is important for stimulating a sense of leader trustworthiness, which is important for followers to accept the vision of the leader.
Leaders who are ethical are people-oriented, and also aware of how their decisions impact others, and use their social power to serve the greater good instead of self-serving interests. Motivating followers to put the needs or interests of the group ahead of their own is another quality of ethical leaders. Motivating involves engaging others in an intellectual and emotional commitment between leaders and followers that makes both parties equally responsible in the pursuit of a common goal. Ethical leadership falls within the nexus of inspiring, stimulating, and visionary leader behaviours that make up transformational and charismatic leadership. Ethical leaders assist followers in gaining a sense of personal competence that allows them to be self-sufficient by encouraging and empowering them.
What is Ethical Leadership?
One typical response to the “ethics crisis” in business is a clarion call for more “ethical leadership,” yet there are few explanations of what exactly is meant by the term. Many executives and business thinkers believe that ethical leadership is simply a matter of leaders having good character. By having “the right values” or being a person of “strong character,” the ethical leader can set the example for others and withstand any temptations that may occur along the way. Without denying the importance of good character and the right values, the reality of ethical leadership is far more complex and the stakes are much higher.
Over the past 25 years, in talking to executives in a number of industries about the problems of how to lead in a world of great change—globalization, democratization, and incredible technological advances—we have identified a number of touchstones for the idea of “ethical leadership.” Our experience is often contrary to the picture of business executives one finds in public discussion where they are often seen as greedy, competitive, and only concerned with compensation. In fact most executives want to be effective in their jobs and to leave their companies and the world a better place, creating value on both fronts for those whose lives they affect.
Our view of ethical leadership takes into account not only the leader but also his constituents (followers and key stakeholders), the context or situation that the leader and constituents face, the leader’s processes and skills, and the outcomes that result. Leaders are first and foremost members of their own organizations and stakeholder groups. As such, their purpose, vision, and values are for the benefit of the entire organization and its key stakeholders.
“Leaders see their constituents as not just followers, but rather as stakeholders striving to achieve that same common purpose, vision, and values. These follower and stakeholder constituents have their own individuality and autonomy which must be respected to maintain a moral community.”
Ethical leaders embody the purpose, vision, and values of the organization and of the constituents, within an understanding of ethical ideals. They connect the goals of the organization with that of the internal employees and external stakeholders.
Leaders work to create an open, two-way conversation, thereby maintaining a charitable understanding of different views, values, and constituents’ opinions. They are open to others’ opinions and ideas because they know those ideas make the organization they are leading better....