Ethical Leadership

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September 12, 2018

Ethical leadership, in spite of being very contradictory and subjective, is exciting to reflect on. Lack of traditional research results with number confirmations makes it hard to eliminate all the subjectivism from this concept. All available studies are descriptive and reflect subjective opinions of the authors on ‘what ethical leadership is’.

It is true that what is ethical to one can look rude or unacceptable to another. Northouse (2013) gives an excellent example of the truck-driving company when the owner has to choose one person out of 7 for the new, more comfortable and profitable route. It samples only one side of ethical leadership, but the case demonstrates that whichever decision is made, there will be people who are not happy about it. In such situation, the leader has to find the way to satisfy all the interested parties using his best communication skills to prove to the team that the decision was the fairest.

For global leaders, the limits of ethical behaviour may be even more difficult to determine as different countries have different rules, traditions, codes of conduct, and customs (ethics derives from Greek ethos which includes all of those meanings). In some parts of the world, it is good for the leader to be human-oriented, altruistic – his followers will appreciate it and see him as a strong, fair leader.  But in other cultures, these qualities aren’t considered characteristics of a good leader, and somebody who is more utilitarian or even ethically egoistic might succeed more (Northouse, 2013).

Today’s world is so open that any business or position in the company is socially accountable. Organisations and their leaders will increasingly be judged on their ethical behaviour, which will force both companies and their managers to act in a certain way to be successful. Keep it in mind next time when making a difficult decision.


Northouse, P.G. (2013) Leadership: theory and practice. 6th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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