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Main Street: Jan. 16, 2019

January 16, 2019 GMT

Having a doctorate in ethical leadership and as a professor who teaches ethics, I’m confounded by the apparent lack of ethics in our world.

At every turn, we see media reports of unethical behavior and practices that devolve into criminal behavior. Our politically correct society has evolved into one of not being confrontational and accepting any practices that often border on unethical or corrupt behavior.

Our collective voices are stifled, and we are called disparaging names if we do not agree with the latest assault on our democracy or by standing on our inalienable rights as Americans. This trend is a unified one-world order and one in which I do not ascribe to as an American citizen and patriot. At best, this is a power play to reduce our rights as Americans and promote an unethical climate that tears at our foundations as a free society.


Given the variety of definitions of ethics, I subscribe to Mayru Ramgir’s definition, “Your actions define your character, your words define your wisdom, but your treatment of others defines the REAL you.”

How you treat others is a direct correlation to your ethical behavior. Is it about you and your needs, or is about helping others and doing the right things for the right reasons?

Despite those attempts to eliminate our rights as American’s by those proponents who advocate an unethical one-world order, we are confronted with unethical practices and behaviors daily. Namely, we see organizations or leaders taking ethical shortcuts to achieve personal-private gain over the rights of others in the organization.

An interesting article found on the website, “EthicalSystems.org: Business Integrity Through Research” offers some compelling advice on handling ethics. I would like to highlight some of their salient points and then comment in parentheses on how to add this your leadership domain.

Generally speaking, leaders are the ones to usually set the ethical climate and culture in the organization. Ethical leadership, therefore, centers on positive outcomes and the ability to negate or reduce unethical behavior or outcomes and is considered the most effective lever in the ethical system.

Advancing this notion, there are three distinct competencies regarding ethical behavior in the organization:

Make ethics a clear priority.(As leaders, the focal point is to create a climate of trust and a culture of ethical behavior in the organization. This consists of establishing a code of ethical conduct, presenting a clear and consistent part of ethics in every situation and holding people accountable for their actions.)Make ethical culture a part of every personnel-related function in your organization.(Leadership is central to maintaining the core vision and mission of any organization. Fused within this framework is a critical understanding of developing employees to understand the culture and purpose of the organization, coupled with a deep understanding of behaving and reinforcing ethical conduct.)Encourage, measure and reward ethical leadership at multiple levels.(Ethical leadership derives from the top and is infused and permeated from every perspective of the organization. The ethical climate is cemented when reinforced and the values of being ethical are protected and rewarded. Mid-level managers must be mentored and given the latitude to mentor those directly reporting to them. Model the behavior you wish others to follow.)


During these ethically challenged times, anyone in the organization can become an ethical leader. Traits essential for becoming an ethical leader include: Conscientiousness (being thorough, careful or vigilant); Moral Identity (The degree of importance for individuals to define themselves as a good person with moral traits); and cognitive moral development (how sophisticated one’s thinking is about ethical issues.) Taken together, ethical leadership centers on the ability to comprehend, learn, adapt and apply ethical decision-making in the organization.

In addition, ethical leadership does matter. Research indicates that followers who rate their leaders as more ethical have more favorable job attitudes such as job satisfaction and commitment. They are less likely to leave the organization since these followers are attracted to ethical role models who care about them, treat them fairly and have a high set of ethical standards in the organization.

Furthermore, ethical leadership often is associated with more helpful behavior from employees as it reduces deviant or unethical behavior in followers. As leaders promote ethical behavior, others in the organization learn from those behaviors.

When and if an unethical behavior or practice occurs in the organization, employees are more likely to report the wrongdoing to management because ethical leaders create a psychologically safe environment and are trusted to handle these unethical occurrences fairly and with care. Further, research has found that followers of ethical leaders tend to identify more with the organization, report higher self-efficacy and a stronger leader-follower relationship.

Consequently, ethical leadership does indeed matter in the organization. Ethical leadership derives from the top-down and permeates every part of the organization if modeled and reinforced. It is when personal-private gain allows unethical individuals to take shortcuts and sabotage the climate of ethics and trust within the organization.

Chaos ensues, and the organization begins to spiral out of control. As ethical leaders, it is incumbent for us to model the behavior we wish to promote in the organization.

Finally, as DaShanne Stokes eloquently said, “Ethics and oversight are what you eliminate when you want absolute power.”

Therefore, focus on trust, communication and enabling others in the organization to achieve the organization’s purpose, synced with a culture of ethics, and watch your organization soar to new heights.