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What are Leadership Ethics?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 17, 2024
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Leadership ethics refer to fair management practices powered by strong principles. Ethical leaders set reasonable yet high standards for their followers to which they also adhere. They represent a company's core values and serve as role models to others. Unethical leadership occurs when managers act out of a personal sense of morals or on emotions such as jealousy or anger rather than what is best for the company. An ethical leader isn't perfect, but he or she is team-oriented and embraces fair workplace policy ethics.

For instance, even if a manager's personal ethics, which may actually have a discriminatory bias, differ from ethical business practices, he or she still must operate fairly in the workplace. Values that are based on equality and consideration of others rather than biases that may simply mask as leadership ethics must always dominate at every job site. Discriminating against an employee due to his or her color, gender, sexual orientation, age or other personal factor is not only illegal, but also unethical. True leaders inspire and motivate all of their employees to provide them with a sense of empowerment.

Teamwork, dedication and dependability are some common leadership ethics that tend to be much appreciated by followers. Consistency is key, because if some employees are seen as being allowed to get away with unethical behavior, or the leader doesn't act in the way he or she expects everyone else to behave, respect and purpose are often lost. If unethical behavior is seen as being acceptable, ethical leadership is not likely to work in that environment.

Leading by example is absolutely necessary to promote a teamwork environment of ethics. Unethical leadership may occur when supervisors act on emotion, rather than thinking situations through in accordance with company policies, values and goals. Leadership ethics, on the other hand, stress trying to do the right thing in any given situation, while acknowledging and learning from past mistakes. A leader who admits his or her mistakes and learns from them to avoid repeating these errors can make a competent leader who is compassionate yet consistent in managing ethics issues with followers.

Reviewing ethics expectations a few times a year during meetings is something leaders may do to reinforce the importance of maintaining company values. Rewards for ethical behavior and punishment for unethical actions can have a big impact on employees. The human resources department of a business can advise managers on dealing with leadership ethics issues.

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Discussion Comments
By FitzMaurice — On Feb 15, 2011

Ethics and leadership effectiveness go hand in hand. A leader who is not interested or concerned with the people who work for him or her will not be effective. A leader who does not understand how to serve through leading will be a tyrant, and will create a working environment of fear and jealousy. This is too often the case in workplaces, with workers developing serious problems with authority, and authorities pushing the workers around for fun.

By BioNerd — On Feb 12, 2011

Ethics and business might seem to run head to head and not have very much to do with each other. Good ethics are expected of good businessmen, however, and the best code to follow is shrewd innocence. Even the Bible says that Christians should be "shrewd as serpents, innocent as doves." Knowing how to meet lying and scheming with firm integrity and strong leadership is an important business ethic for establishing trustworthy rapport.

By SilentBlue — On Feb 11, 2011

@BostonIrish

I agree that this is the image that a leader should portray, but it is also necessary in the business and politics world, to know how to choose the lesser of two evils and make deals that may seem evil to some. Richard Nixon's deal with Mao is a good example of this, with Nixon and Kissinger choosing to make a deal with the devil rather than risk a nuclear danger to planet earth. Idealized moral heroes are few and far between, even the best of Presidents had some major flaw in the public eye.

By BostonIrish — On Feb 10, 2011

The best presidents have been recognized for their integrity, and every president of the US seeks to work toward this high standard so that history will remember them well. American people want a leader who is a Christian person who feels indebted and responsible to a higher power. This is probably the best moral leadership: someone who is not interested in double dealing or using maneuvers to get what they want.

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