The Importance of Ethical Leadership

| Posted in Leadership Blog

Are you the same at work, at home and in the community? Do you have the bravery to stand against peer pressure when it comes to compromising your values? According to the Center for Ethical Leadership, “Ethical leadership is knowing your core values and having the courage to live them in all parts of your life in service of the common good.” In our experience, ethical leadership involves leading in a manner that respects the rights and dignity of others; a concept that is at times in direct conflict with more traditional models of leadership. In the past, the main goal of leadership has been to increase production/productivity and profits. However, in the 21st  Century this view has begun to slowly diminish as more organizational development and human resources experts assert that leaders also have the responsibility for ensuring standards of moral and ethical conduct. Good leadership then, refers not only to competence, but to ethics that transform organizations and people’s lives.

Ethical leadership requires ethical leaders. If leaders are ethical, they can ensure that ethical practices are carried out throughout the organization. Leaders are naturally in a position of power both on and off the job, so ethical leadership must focus on how leaders leverage this power in the decisions they make, actions they engage in and ways they influence others. Leaders are responsible for influencing followers to perform actions, complete tasks, and behave in certain manners. Effective leaders also influence processes, stimulate change in attitudes and values, and amplify empowerment and self-efficacy of their followers, as they foster the internalization of corporate vision. The nurturing aspect of leadership can also raise an organization’s culture and employee’s values to higher levels of ethical behavior. By demonstrating ethical leadership we promote a high level of integrity that stimulates a sense of trustworthiness, and encourages subordinates to accept and follow our vision. Character and integrity provides a strong foundation for other personal characteristics that direct our ethical beliefs, values, and decisions.

Ethical leaders are likely to be people-oriented, and aware of how their decisions impact others. They therefore use their power and authority to serve the greater good instead of self-serving interests –a “win/win” for employees and the organization. This modeling serves as a guide and motivator for others to put the needs and interests of the group ahead of their own. Such engagement creates an intellectual and emotional commitment between leaders and their followers that makes both parties equally responsible in the pursuit of common goals. Further characteristics of ethical leaders include: inspiring, stimulating, and other visionary behaviors that make up transformational leadership. Ethical leaders also coach cohorts in gaining a sense of personal and professional competence that allows them to excel while being more resilient, loyal and profitable.

The Center for Ethical Leadership recommends a 4-V Model of Ethical Leadership as a framework that aligns leaders’ internal beliefs and values with his or her external behaviors and actions for the purpose of advancing the common good of employees, leaders, organizations and beyond. The model was created and based on research by Center founder Dr. Bill Grace. A quick overview of the 4-V Model is as follows:

  • Values – Ethical leadership begins with an understanding of and commitment to a leader’s core values. By discovering the values which make up the core of our identities and motivators, we begin the process of integrating our unique values with our choices in our personal, professional, and civic lives.
  • Vision – Ethical leadership requires the ability to frame our actions within a picture of “what ought to be” – particularly in the area of service to others.
  • Voice – Ethical leaders must be able to articulate their vision to others in an authentic way that enlivens them into action.
  • Virtue – Ethical leaders strive to do what is right and good. They practice virtuous behavior by asking “How are my values, vision and voice in alignment with and supporting the common good?”

We would add a 5th “V” to this list: VALIDATE – increase the ethical know-how of everyone in the organization by hiring for ethics and values as well as capabilities, including ethical behavior in appraisals and firing people who fall short of ethical standards.

Ethical leadership is essential for today’s leaders. Watching the news over the past months and years has underscored the importance of being ethical in business and universally. So what can you do to ensure that you are a principled leader that is creating an ethical organization? Start with an open dialogue with your leadership team – help them discover and claim their core values, then work together to develop a vision for how your world could be different by employing the “5-V Model.” If you find that you need a helping hand or a sounding board during the process reach out to the Center for Ethical Leadership, Center for Creative Leadership, or the executive coaches at The Workplace Coach.

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