Sunday, November 18, 2012

Is Ethical Behaviour a Prerequisite of Effective Leadership?

From as far back as 1975 and beyond researchers like Steve Yussen and Victor Levy have been telling us that “for social learning of ethical behaviour to take place, role models must be credible in terms of moral behaviour. By treating others fairly, honestly, and considerately, leaders become worthy of emulation by others. Otherwise, followers might ignore a leader whose behaviour is inconsistent with his/her ethical pronouncements or who fails to interact with followers in a caring, nurturing style.”
This implies that followers are seeking ethical leadership in the first place and can tell the difference between the two. Some might argue that today’s role models, who start to shape our ethical landscape from a young age aren’t teaching the right behaviours in the first place and hence aren’t teaching people to actually know the difference between right and wrong. In fact it’s highly possible that perceptions of ‘true’ ethical behaviours are becoming blurred as unethical behaviour seems to get the headlines on a virtually continuous basis, to the extent that this could start to give the impression that this is normal and acceptable behaviour.
For example, an employee who speaks up against wrongdoings in his or her organisation isn’t embraced by their community and thanked, but are branded as ‘whistle blowers’ and are often put on trial more than the unethical organisation and their leadership. This can give the impression that speaking out against ‘unethical behaviour’ isn’t okay.
Michael Brown and Marie Mitchell, in a 2010 article in the Business Ethics Quarterly highlight how qualitative research over the last decade has revealed that ethical leaders are best described along two related dimensions: moral person and moral manager.
Where Brown and Mitchell state that “the moral person dimension refers to the qualities of the ethical leader as a person. Strong moral persons are honest and trustworthy. They demonstrate a concern for other people and are also seen as approachable. Employees can come to these individuals with problems and concerns, knowing that they will be heard. Moral persons have a reputation for being fair and principled. Lastly, moral persons are seen as consistently moral in both their personal and professional lives,” (p.584).
And “the moral manager dimension refers to how the leader uses the tools of the position of leadership to promote ethical conduct at work. Strong moral managers see themselves as role models in the workplace. They make ethics salient by modelling ethical conduct to their employees. Moral managers set and communicate ethical standards and use rewards and punishments to ensure those standards are followed. In sum, leaders who are moral managers “walk the talk” and “talk the walk,” patterning their behaviour and organizational processes to meet moral standards,” (p.584).
So the question still remains today, ‘how do we develop the ethical leaders of the future?’ and at the moment it seems this responsibility is being left in the hands of the current organisational leadership and corporate boards. Where not surprisingly ethical leaders will tend to attract and develop other ethical leaders; but of course poorly developed and unethical leaders are also developing a potential future group of unethical leaders.
As mentioned in the article by Michael Brown and Marie Mitchell, “how does (un)ethical leadership develop over time? Although research points to the importance of personality (Walumbwa & Schaubroeck, 2009), how does upbringing, education, and work experience shape the ethicality of leaders? Can ethical leadership be developed and if so, how? Can unethical leaders be trained to be ethical and if so, how? Indeed, scholars suggest both are a possibility. Specifically, Mitchell and Palmer (2010) argue that sustained ethical behaviour and confidence to engage in ethical behaviour can be strengthened, similar to a “muscle” in the body. Based on self-regulation theory and research (e.g., Baumeister, Gailliot, DeWall, & Oaten, 2006; Muraven & Baumeister, 2000), they contend ethical exercise can strengthen leaders’ moral core, which then can ensure behaviour holds integrity to moral values, (p.603).
We need to find dedicated people who are passionate about the future of business to urgently answer these questions if we are serious about developing effective, ethical leaders for the future
Maybe a first step I for Nations to identify their outstanding, ethically driven leaders across all industry sectors, from large corporates to sme’s, and allow them to become much more visible in schools and universities; and more visible in all forms of media; making ethics something that is ‘attractive’ and highlighting standards our future leaders want to embrace.  
Brown, M., and Mitchell, M. (2010).  Ethical and Unethical Leadership: Exploring New Avenues for Future Research. Business Ethics Quarterly, Volume 20, Issue 4, p.583-616.
Yussen, S. R., and Levy Jr., V. M. (1975). Effects of warm and neutral models on the attention of observational learners. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 20: p.66–72.

1 comment:

  1. I would argue that leadership need not be ethical to be effective. Constructing an accurate ethical-leadership concept that is not over-extended by one’s ideological agenda ought to begin with defining leadership itself. That is to say, more attention should be paid to thinking about what leadership is. Beyond its attributes and any contextual artifacts, leadership itself must be identified as a distinct phenomenon before we can go on to highlight the ethical dimension that completes “ethical leadership.” Then what counts as the ethical dimension of leadership can be clipped back to that which is implied in the definition of leadership, which in turn is entailed in the essence of the phenomenon. See