Ethical leadership is often described as leadership that influences others by using trust, honesty, empathy, and fairness. Ethical leaders foster an ethical culture within organizations by behaving in ways that reflect ethical values. Leaders who facilitate ethical behavior positively influence the attainment of organizational goals. Studies have shown ethical behavior and high moral standards to be amongst the top leadership qualities. Although ethics and morality concern doing what is right, the two concepts are not always synonymous. While morality deals with conforming to ideals of right human conduct, ethics includes consideration for agreements made relative to how a person will act. For example, a doctor takes an oath to do no harm but she sometimes has to knowingly forgo providing the highest level of care for a patient who cannot afford to pay the projected healthcare bill. Although her actions likely abide by the agreement she made with her organization and might be ethical, many people might view her actions as immoral. Ethical, as well as moral, leaders should govern based on fairness rather than financial/personal gains. Several current leaders have constituencies that are searching for ethical replacements.
A civilian Army Engineer, responsible for conducting technical evaluations of training devices offered by different companies to be used to train soldiers, reported several unethical actions taken by his leaders during his ongoing 25 year career. The Engineer has seen leaders turn a blind eye to reported incidences such as racial discrimination, professional disrespect, time card fraud, and nepotism. In one instance, the Engineer served as a technical evaluator during a competition between several companies trying to win a government contract to provide a training tool for soldiers. While attempting to conduct his duties, the Engineer’s authority was seized in a coup-like fashion and his leaders edited documents to ensure a particular company won the contract. In another instance, the Engineer’s leader (an Army Officer) ordered him to take unlawful actions and retaliated against him when he refused and reported the unethical behavior. Other Officers assisted the initial retaliator by issuing the Engineer unfair performance evaluations and removing him from leadership positions. Although the Engineer repeatedly reported the continued retaliations, no leader has extended assistance. The Engineer’s pleas for help up his chain of command within the organization and to outside organizations including the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have not led to meaningful changes in the Engineer’s organization. An ethical leader would have fairly investigated the Engineer’s complaints in an effort to locate and address any unethical, immoral, or toxic leaders within the organization. Ethical leaders listen to their followers and offer beneficial interventions when necessary. As of the date this article was published, the Engineer was still in search of an ethical leader.
The voters select their leaders and expect their leaders, in turn, to take actions that benefit their followers (i.e., their constituency). The voters deserve a leader who respects the law and does not endanger the lives of others for personal gain. One presidential candidate who is working to gain the trust of the voters has violated federal law by mishandling classified information. She exchanged United States secrets, using a non-secure personal computer network, and those secrets were reportedly intercepted by foreign intelligence services. After being asked for certain email messages, the presidential candidate deleted everything from her computer’s hard drive and stated she did not save copies of the email messages. Investigators estimated over 2,000 of the email messages on the candidate’s personal server contained classified information.
The same presidential candidate was also accused of accepting money from special interest groups with the intention of influencing future laws to benefit those groups. The candidate reportedly accepted $20,000 from Saudi Arabian leaders. Some United States citizens question whether or not she will support the widely discussed release of a report that purports to substantiate the involvement of the Saudi Arabian government in the world trade center attacks of September 11, 2001.
The presidential candidate, while serving in the United States Senate, strongly supported trade policies that resulted in an uncountable number of jobs being moved to other countries and fostered an increase in the number of men, women, and children standing on corners holding signs seeking money and/or food. How can she be trusted to lead the voters in an ethical fashion? How can she be trusted to foster an ethical culture during her presidency? How can she be trusted? Many of the voters feel she cannot be trusted and are searching for an alternative-an ethical leader.
The citizens of the United States elected a President, several years ago, who told them he would bring positive change to the country. He promised to improve the economy and order his military troops to come home and cease fighting in foreign countries. Instead, the President doubled the country’s debt and greatly increased the fighting in foreign countries. The vast majority of the people killed in those foreign countries were not the intended targets. The President approved the use of un-manned drones to kill individuals in those countries and those killings were carried out against innocent people 90% of the time. During one timeframe, attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people. Although the President acknowledged that drones often kill innocent people, he continues to order the use of drones to target people in foreign countries. The President’s actions have been viewed as dishonest by many of his constituents.
The citizens of the United States are also disappointed that their President supported laws that allow little boys to join little girls in the little girls’ restroom. During a time when crimes like rape and sodomy are on the rise, legalizing men to use women’s restrooms is unethical and decreases the level of trust citizens hold for their leader. The United States President’s actions show his lack of empathy for women-especially abused women. While many of the citizens of the United States, mostly those from certain communities, enjoy the thought of men in women’s restrooms, others find it repulsive and have questioned the values and morality of their President. The majority of the citizens are eager to replace the President in their search for an ethical leader.
When leaders foster a fair and trustworthy environment followers are likely to reciprocate with ethical and moral behaviors. Because leaders set the tone for what is viewed as acceptable, followers who perceive their leaders as unethical tend to turn a blind eye to the immoral and unethical conduct of their teammates. Other followers distance themselves from the unethical activity and hope for a change in leadership. Many followers find themselves on that seemingly never-ending search for an ethical leader.