Walking the Talk: Ethical Leadership Behavior

Perspectives from Social Science Research, Philosophy and the Ethics Institute at Kent Place School

By Ariel Sykes, Assistant Director of the Ethics Institute

Every Fall, KPS Middle School Peer Mediators run the RESPECT Assembly at Lincoln Hubbard Elementary School

This blog is part of our Exploring Ethical Leadership Blog Series

Question #2: How does and should an ethical leader behave?

Social Science Lense

If we look at Brown and Trevino’s descriptive account of a “moral person” and “moral manager” as a guide, then an ethical leader should:

Deliberately model ethical decision making for others, support a proactive ethics-related agenda in the workplace, and maintain personal and professional integrity

-Ethical Leadership: A Review and Future Directions (610)

Philosophical Lense

We can also look to philosophy for answers to this question. People often turn to ethical theories to help guide their ethical behavior.

If we take Consequentialism then we can say an ethical leader is one who uses the possible outcomes and impacts of an action to determine what to do. (To learn more about Consequentialism, read this article from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

We can also look at Deontology, which guides an ethical leader to think about what decision aligns with a set of ethical rules and to act based on these principles out of duty to “do the right thing.” (To learn more about Deontology, read this article from The Ethics Center).

Either of these approaches, if the spirit of the theory is kept in tack and followed consistently, could arguably help us act morally in our personal and work lives, which Brown and Trevino argue are essential to being an ethical leader.

Reflections from the Ethics Institute

At The Ethics Institute at Kent Place School we use The Ethical Decision-Making Method to help us cultivate ethical behavior in our school and communities. We teach and practice this model with our faculty, staff, students, families and community partners to develop and support ethical leadership.

For us “behaving as an ethical leader” is more than following a particular ethical theory or abiding by the rules and norms of a space. For us, it is about intentionally engaging in a decision-making process that is grounded in an individual’s personal values, a commitment to critical and creative thinking practices, and a willingness to be open to differing (and even challenging) perspectives.

Our method, which consists of a series of steps, offers a structured approach to ethical decision-making that encourages consistency in thinking and acting across ethical dilemmas while also honoring the role that an individual’s values play in guiding and motivating their behavior. The foundation of Ethical Decision-Making Method rests on the values of integrity, respect, empathy, and authenticity.

Works Cited (for the entire four part blog series)

Arendt, H. (1970). On Violence. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

Arendt, H. (1958). The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Aristotle, ., Ross, W. D., & Brown, L. (2009). The Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Big Thinkers and Explainers (2016, February 18). Ethics Explainer: Deontology. The Ethics Centre. https://ethics.org.au/ethics-explainer-deontology/

Brown, Michael & Treviño, Linda. (2006). Ethical Leadership: A Review and Future Directions. The Leadership Quarterly. 17. 595-616. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S104898430600110X

Crash Course (2016, November 28). Contractarianism: Crash Course Philosophy #37. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Co6pNvd9mc&feature=youtu.be

Encyclopedia Britannica (2019). Social Learning. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. https://www.britannica.com/science/social-learning

Haines, William (1995). Consequentialism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://www.iep.utm.edu/conseque/

Hobbes, T. (1969). Leviathan, 1651. Menston: Scolar P.

Marcus, A., & Hays, G. (2002). Meditations. New York: Modern Library.

Plato, Anastaplo, G., & Berns, L. (2004). Plato’s Meno. Newburyport, MA: Focus Pub./R. Pullins Co.