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Examples in Ethical Leadership

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Examples in Ethical Leadership


Ethical leadership is a term related to human relationships between the leader and follower. These terms have evolved to what they are today. There are many examples of good leaders, both ethical and unethical.

Transformational leaders are good examples of ethical leaders where followers are raised to higher standards to the point where they are being trained as leaders. Hitler, Clinton and Nixon are examples of great leaders, however, they are considered as unethical leaders. Colin Powell and C.A.L.M. may be considered as examples of ethical transformational leaders and while these leaders continue their work, followers will continually be raised to positions of leadership.

Examples in Ethical Leadership

It has been said that a good leader is an ethical leader and that to effectively lead a group of people a leader needs to have an ethical foundation. But is this always the case? There are numerous historical examples of good and effective leaders who had questionable ethical behaviours, and yet still had the love and adoration of their followers. While on the other hand, leaders like Colin Powell are able to effectively lead with strong ethical and leadership behaviours. Transformational leadership has the ability to raise followers into leaders, more often than not, these are the ethical leaders. This paper will discuss these points and in doing so will first define the terms of ethics and leadership. Transformational leadership will be described followed by a dichotomy of the ethical leader and a historical account of both ethical and unethical leaders. Finally an account of community leadership will be discussed with the impact that an organisation has had upon my community. The field of leadership and ethics is an exhaustive field where there is much potential to be written, however, due to set parameters; the previously mentioned points will only be discussed.


Ethics are reflected in the way we see ourselves and the way we see others, and are culminated in our relation to those others in the community in which we live. Ethics have been referred as the science of conduct (Ciulla, 2005). Since the times of Socrates and Plato, philosophers have analysed the issue of ethics. Modern definitions focuses on the impact ethical leaders have on organisations and individuals. Ethics is defined as the knowledge of right and wrong, and making the right decision. Therefore, the goal of ethics is to make decisions that are best for individuals and the organisation (Martin, 2001).

The study of ethics is about human relationships, it is about what we should do and what we should be like as human beings, as members of a group or society and in different roles we play in life (Ciulla, 2004). It is the standards of right and wrong which influence our behaviour (Lussier & Achua 2004). These ethical standards are the crucial links between leader's aims for their organisations, on the one hand, and their own personal beliefs and actions, on the other. The values that are held to be important to the promotion of high ethical standards are honesty, fairness, mutual respect, trust, compassion and sensitivity in the exercise of power' (Mangham, 2004). Morality and ethical behaviour are usually situated socially within distinct communities and culturally within particular structures of moral reasoning and practice (Mangham, 2004).


Contemporary definitions most often reject the idea that leadership revolves around the leader's ability, behaviors, styles or charisma. Today, scholars discuss the basic nature of leadership in terms of the interaction among the people involved in the process; both leaders and followers. Thus, leadership is not the work of a single person; rather it can be explained and defined as a collaborative endeavor among group members. Therefore, the essence of leadership is not the leader, but the relationship (Duska, 1998).

The definition of leadership has like many other definitions in society evolved to what it is today. Rost (1991, as cited in Ciulla, 2004) collected 221 definitions of leadership dating back to the 1920s. These definitions generally say the same thing of a person or persons somehow moving other people to do something, however the relationship between follower and leader evolved. For example, in the 1920s, leaders impressed their will on followers. In the 40s, leaders persuaded followers, in the 60s, leaders influenced them, whereas in the 90s, leaders and followers influence each other (Rost, 1991 as cited in Ciulla, 2004). Leadership is a social, normative and historical construct which evolves through research, conditions of life and the values that are important to society (Ciulla, 2004).

Ethics and Leadership

There are two theories which illustrate the relationship between ethics and leadership. The deontological theory: this is where the intentions are the morally relevant aspects of an act. As long as the leader acts accordingly to their duties, and moral principles, then the leader has acted ethically regardless of the consequences (Victor & Soutar, 2005). The teleological theory: what really matters is that the leader's actions result in bringing something about which is morally good, or the greater good (Victor & Soutar, 2005). Thus, deontological theory is where the moral intent is what counts, in comparison to the teleological theory where results are what matters.

Transformational leadership has been almost synonymous with ethical leadership because it rests on a set of moral assumptions about the relationship between leaders and followers (Ciulla, 2004). This form of leadership argues that leaders have to operate at higher need and value levels than their followers in order to raise follower's consciousness. They elevate followers by helping them reassess their values and needs, thus the followers are being transformed to leaders. This is in contrast to transactional leadership where leaders and followers reach their own goals by supplying lower level wants and needs so that they can move up to higher needs.


Although transformational leadership argues that leaders operate at higher levels and values, does that mean that followers operate at lower levels? A curious point about ethics is that when the standards for leaders are set too high, then too few people will be qualified as leaders or will want to be leaders. How many people can live up to the standard of never having lied,



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