Understanding and evaluating ethical leadership.


Traditionally, the purpose of leadership was viewed to increase production and profits (Northouse, 2012; Yukl, 2006). This traditional view of leadership is slowly diminishing as more organizational development and human resources experts assert that in addition to being effective leaders, they must also take the responsibility for ensuring standards of moral and ethical conduct (Yukl, 2006). In today’s business world, ethics has become central to leadership because leaders help to establish and reinforce organizational culture (Schien, 2010). With this in mind, it is important to not only understand what ethical leadership looks like but, how to evaluate it. First, I would like to draw on Northouse’s (2012) principles of ethical leadership to answer the overarching question of what ethical leadership behaviors look like.

What does ethical leadership look like?

  1. ) Respects others:Followers are not a means to an end. Respect means that a leader listens closely to subordinates, is empathetic, and is tolerant of opposing viewpoints.
  2. ) Serves others:Leaders must tend to their followers needs and make decisions that will benefit their needs. In other words, the leader should be follower centered.
  3. ) Just and fair:How a leader distributes rewards or punishments says a great deal about whether the leader is concerned with justice and how he or she approaches issues of fairness; no one should receive special treatment unless his/her situation explicitly demands it.
  4. ) Honest:The leader must not only tell the truth, but be open to others and their perceptions about their work.
  5. ) Builds community:The leader must first look to the needs of the community to establish a common goal to help guide the direction of the group. It is important that the leader be able to “walk the talk” and follow the goals that have been established.

Evaluating Ethical Leadership

Given the information above, effective ethical leadership then refers not only to competence, but to ethical behavior that transform organizations and people’s lives. Now that you understand what ethical leadership looks like, I have presented some criteria for evaluating effective ethical leadership (Yukl, 2006).

  1. ) Use of leader power:How the leader uses their power to serve followers and the organization.
  2. ) Development of vision:The ethical leader develops a vision based on follower input about their needs, values, and ideas.
  3. ) Integrity of behavior:Whether the leader acts consistently with their espoused values.
  4. ) Risk taking in decisions and actions:How much is a leader willing to take personal risks and make necessary decisions?
  5. ) Communication of relevant information:Making complete and timely disclosure of information about events, problems, and actions.
  6. ) Response to criticism:Encouraging critical evaluations to find better solutions.
  7. ) Development of follower skills and self-efficacy:Using coaching, mentoring, and trainingto develop followers.
  8. ) Handles diverse interests of multiple stakeholders: Attempting to balance and integrate them.


Image: http://ethics.tamu.edu/

Northouse, P. G. (2012). Leadership: Theory and practice. Sage Publications.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership (Vol. 2). John Wiley & Sons.

Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations, 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.



2 thoughts on “Understanding and evaluating ethical leadership.

  1. Pingback: Got ethics: Why ethical employees are important and how organizations can foster them. | Leadership Archways

  2. Pingback: Understanding and improving your own charisma. | Leadership Archways

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