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Ethical Leadership

Key Idea

Too many leadership models focus on the leader being effective and achieving results, while neglecting or devaluing the importance of the ethical dimension of leadership. The ethical leader goes beyond what is legal (or not legal). Displaying integrity is rule #1 for the ethical leader. The ethical leader lives by a set of values and principles — ranging honesty and respect to the Golden Rule. The importance of ethical leadership is often posed by asking: Was Hitler a leader?

Book to Read

Ethics, The Heart of Leadership 
edited by Joanne Ciulla (2004)

Quick Take from the Book  

According to Peter Northouse (in his book Introduction to Leadership), there are six dimensions to ethical leadership:

  1. The character of the leader (who you are as a person, your settled habits and qualities).
  2. The actions of the leader (recognizing the ethical implications of your actions, understanding that not all “ends justify the means”).
  3. The goals of the leader (some goals are ethical, some are not).
  4. The honesty of the leader (ethical leaders tell the truth, no matter the consequence).
  5. The power of the leader (ethical leaders do not misuse their power).
  6. The values of the leader (values are beliefs, such as justice or fairness, that the leader lives by and models).          

Quote of Note  

"The definition question in leadership studies is not really about the question “What is leadership?” but about the question “What is good leadership?” By good, I mean morally good and effective. This is why I think it’s fair to say that ethics lies at the heart of leadership studies. Researchers in the field need to get clear on the ethical elements of leadership in order to be clear on what the term leadership connotes."

— p. 18 (in EthicsThe Heart of Leadership)

Related Styles: Principle-based Leadership, Authentic Leadership

Return to List of Leadership Styles