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6 Steps to Ethical Leadership in Today’s Organizations

Perhaps no other issue can so dramatically define the difference between management and leadership as the individual’s attention to ethics.

A manager must focus on the day-to-day aspects of keeping the department, team, or organization running smoothly. This includes making sure the department is adequately staffed, the company is meeting sales targets, production is meeting targets, etc. A leader, on the other hand, must be able to set goals and aspirations for the team, set the tone for the organization, motivate and inspire the group, etc. Realistically, managers need to be able to do both. They must inspire and motivate and must ensure that the company operates effectively. Setting the ethical tone of the organization is a leadership function. The challenge for most managers is to spend enough time focusing on leadership functions without becoming totally consumed by the day-to-day operations of the team. Because “business ethics has to do with the morally functional nature of our business relationships… Giving them the attention and care they deserve is crucial to the success of an organization” (Hamm, 2003, p. 1). I suggest six steps a manager should take to lead ethically.

1. Reflect on values. To focus proper attention on the ethical tone of the organization, a leader must “draw on his own core values ​​and capabilities” to optimize his leadership potential (Quinn, 2005, p. 76). To do this, leaders must find time to reflect and identify their own personal moral compass, as well as to ask themselves what are the key ethical questions and dilemmas facing their organizations. Just as a manager must take the time to understand their market, budgets, production schedules, etc., an ethical leader must take the time to understand their own personal values, the values ​​of the team, what are the values ​​statements of the organization . it must be and identify the gaps that exist in the aspired goals and the current behavior within the organization (Hamm, 2003, p. 3).

2. Establish trust. Create an environment of trust with employees to create an environment in which employees feel free to discuss ethical dilemmas and issues with management.

3. Establish a Shared Ethical Vision. To ensure organizational buy-in and commitment, include members from various levels of the team to help create a “Code of Conduct” that is aligned with the organization’s Ethical Vision (p. 3).

4. Communicate the Ethical Vision and the Code of Conduct. A leader must ensure that the vision and code are communicated to everyone within the organization. This can be done through policy manuals, training events, individual and team coaching, newsletters, team meetings, etc… “Communicating the program frequently is another important success factor (p. 3), as it is for employees to communicate their concerns to management in a secure and confidential manner.

5. Law. To be effective, the leader must demonstrate that the entire organization takes ethical behavior seriously. All reports of unethical behavior must be thoroughly investigated. In addition, all ethical violators must be punished equally and fairly throughout the organization, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a senior executive or frontline employee. In addition to punishing negative behavior, an effort must be made to reward and recognize positive ethical behavior (Treviño & Nelson, 2005, p. 304). Just as a good manager knows that it is important to reward employees for achieving goals, the ethical leader will recognize that equal importance should be placed on recognizing those who exemplify ethical behavior within the organization. Acting also means leading by example, letting ethical behavior guide the actions of leaders at all times. Doing so will help establish and maintain a culture of ethical behavior.

6. Monitor and maintain ethical behavior. The leader must consider ethical leadership as a key aspect of her role as manager. It cannot be seen as a passing organizational fad. An effort should be made to collect feedback through surveys, focus groups, individual interviews, etc., to identify employee concerns regarding the ethical environment in which they work. This should be a process of continuous improvement to identify concerns and improve the overall ethical environment.

There are at least seven benefits for a manager to focus on being an ethical leader, they include; improvement of the public image of the organization, restoration or improvement of investor confidence, prevention and reduction of criminal sanctions, prevention of civil lawsuits from employees who could not satisfactorily resolve their complaints within the company, improvement of employee retention , market leadership through increased customer satisfaction and setting an example for others in the market (Hamm, 2003, p. 1-2).


Hamm, BA, (2003). Do you want a company that you can be truly proud of? Try a business ethics program. Quinn, R. (2005). Moments of Greatness: Entering the Fundamental State of Leadership. Harvard Business Review, July-August 2005. 75-83.

Treviño, L. and Nelson, K., (2005). Corporate social responsibility and business ethics. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

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