Ten acts of a moral and ethical leader

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Due to the large scales corporate scandals in the past couple of decades, the question of morality and ethics of leadership have once again surfaced after a deep dive of decades. Every now and then, I see, read and hear about these different unethical practices which like other authors, pushes me to think that ethical values have taken a back seat in the business world. I may be wrong but I think that we are forgetting that business is not just performing economically (i.e. to earn profits only), but it is also about the values - the ethical and moral values to be more precise. 

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Cases like the BP oil spill, the fall of Enron, and the more recent one, Well Fargo's scandal, all raises questions as to how these leaders practice their leadership? Do they have any morality? And most importantly, is greed, selfishness and lust has overtaken the corporate world and morality is just a fancy word which looks good in just books? I think that Henry Ford's century old statement is more relevant now than ever before. He said that "For a long time people believed that the only purpose of industry was to make a profit. They are wrong. Its purpose in to serve the general public" (Donaldson, 1982). 

I don't want to paint all the leaders with the same brush, however, as suggested by Baumeister et al. (2001) that bad is stronger than good therefore, such scandals, malpractices which are illegal, unethical and immoral attract large scale media attention. Consequently, corporations are now under more intense pressure to come clean and adhere to a more socially responsible behavior i.e. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and do not limit their selves to just legal obligations. In so doing, the role of leadership is of paramount importance because they are in a better position to influence and inspire followers. If they behave responsibly and promote and adopt genuine CSR practices then followers will automatically fall in line. Hence, leaders are expected to commit their selves to ethical decision making and walk the talk.

To this backdrop, I would like to share 10 acts of a moral leader adopted from the Trevino et al. (2000).

  1. Develop, articulate and uphold high moral principles
  2. Focus on what is right for the organization as well as the people involved.
  3. Set the example you want others to live by.
  4. Be honest with yourself and others.
  5. Drive out fear and eliminate undiscussibles
  6. Establish and communicate ethics policies
  7. Develop a backbone - show zero tolerance for ethical violations.
  8. Reward ethical conduct
  9. Treat everyone with fairness, dignity, and respect, from the lowest to the highest level of organization
  10. Do the right thing in both your private and professional life - even if no one is looking.    

What do you think about these acts? Can you add some more to the list? Do share your thoughts.


Based on Linda Klebe Treviño, Laura Pincus Hartman, and Michael Brown, “Moral Person and Moral Manager: How Executives Develop a Reputation for Ethical Leadership,” California Management Review 42,no. 4 (Summer 2000), pp. 128–142; Christopher Hoenig, “Brave Hearts,” CIO (November 1, 2000), pp. 72–74; and Patricia Wallington, “Honestly?!” CIO (March 15, 2003), pp. 41–42.

Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, D, K. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of general psychology, 5(4), 323-370.

Henry Ford, Sr., quoted by Thomas Donaldson, Corporations and Morality (Prentice Hall, Inc., 1982), p. 57 in Al Gini, “Moral Leadership and Business Ethics.”
Ten acts of a moral and ethical leader Ten acts of a moral and ethical leader Reviewed by Ifzal Ahmad on 10:15:00 Rating: 5
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