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Ethical Leadership Is Mostly About Leadership Integrity

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In the current society today, the roles that leaders play in an organisation are much more significant and are studied in greater depth. The importance of ethically managing an organization and leading the entire organization towards a similar purpose and message requires great leadership. With this, we would look further into the practice of ethical leadership; how it’s defined and attempt to provide a more comprehensive understanding of ethical leadership and it’s relation with integrity. What is Ethical Leadership?

Firstly, Ethics is a philosophical term that is related to the prescription and description of moral principles that guides people’s behaviours, suggesting that there are “acceptable” and “unacceptable,” as well as “right” and “wrong” way of behaving (Stapledon 2009). Whereas, leadership is an art to persuade and direct followers and subordinates to act perform and behave in ways that would eventually help the leader achieve the desired goal (Drucker 1995). When both Ethics and Leadership are placed together it gives us an ethical leader, one who is known to be a combination of a “Moral Person” and “Moral Manager.” As mentioned by Brown & Trevino (2006), Ethical Leadership is the demonstration of a normatively appropriate conduct through personal actions and interpersonal relationships, and the promotion of such conduct to followers through two-way communication, reinforcement and decision making. What is leadership Integrity?

Integrity, is to have a high moral principle and adhering to this set of ethical principles. Leadership Integrity, also known as Moral Identity, is also described as a self regulatory mechanism that motivates one to act morally and is concerned with the degree to which a person’s morality is important to their self identity (Mayer, Aquino, Greenbaum & Kuenzi 2012). Different perspectives of ethical leadership

This topic has been studied over many years, and this has resulted in many differing perspectives on the level of influence that leadership integrity has over ethical leadership. Trevino, Brown & Wall (2004) once stated that the misconception of ethical leadership is due to the narrowing on individual character and qualities such as integrity, honesty and fairness, which falls under a “moral person”, therefore neglecting the importance of a leader possessing the qualities of a “moral manager”. A “moral person” is known to be one with good conduct or character with regards to his personal traits, behaviour and general decision making. They have high integrity making them honest, trustworthy and focused on doing the right thing (Trevino, Hartman & Brown 2000). On the other hand, a “moral manager” translates the ethical traits, behaviours and decision making throughout the organisation, using ethical role model conduct and rewards and punishments, thereby creating ethical standards and expectations.

An ethical leader is defined as a person who is strong on both dimensions, as a moral person and a moral manger (Trevino, Brown & Wall 2004). To help us further understand ethical leadership, Trevino and Brown (2006) came up with an executive ethical leadership reputation matrix to further support their statement above. This matrix is made up of four different leadership styles which are formed through the various combinations of moral person and moral manager qualities each leader possess. There are the ethical leader, hypocritical leader, unethical leader and ethically silent leader. As suggested by Arthur Anderson, an ethical leader must not only be individual of high characters; they must lead others to behave ethically as well. This shows that integrity making up a moral person of high character is insufficient and does not fully encompass the concept for ethical leadership. If someone has a strong leadership integrity, and has strong moral identity but does not have the courage or tenacity to want his voice heard, actions followed and principles abided, he would only be able to remain as an “ethically silent leader” (Trevino, Hartman & Brown 2000).

Likewise, if a person possesses great leadership ability and great hunger to be heard, but he does not have a strong personal characteristic, he would only become a hypocritical leader. In other words, this matrix has help to show that as much as integrity is important to becoming an ethical leader; we should not neglect the fact that it is equally important for a person to possess those qualities of a moral manager. Both forms must apparently exist given the obvious social responsibility and power a leader naturally possess. This point would be further supported as we move deeper into this topic. Moving on, there are six key attributes that characterise an ethical leader. They are character and integrity, people oriented, ethical awareness, motivating, managing ethical accountability and encouraging and empowering (Resick, Hanges, Dickson & Mitchelson 2006). This further highlights the multi dimensional aspects required of an ethical leader, rather than primarily focusing on ethical integrity.

Ethical awareness is based on the moral philosophy of the consequences of decisions and actions. As Resick, Hanges, Dickson & Mitchelson (2006) states, it is impossible for a leader to act ethically if he is unable to identify the ethical issue present. This could bring about detrimental effect on perceived ethical leadership, even if the leader has ethical integrity. It is also a requirement for an ethical leader to be people oriented and be aware of how their actions will impact on others. People orientation is mainly focused on ‘doing good’, which portrays the consequentialism philosophical approach of ‘the greatest good for the great number of people’ (Cowen 2011). The people orientation characteristic highlights the selflessness, externally focused and responsibilities required of an ethical leader which clearly demonstrates another vital characteristic and element of ethical leadership and rebuts the claim that ethical leadership is mainly about integrity. Additionally a moral manager is required to guide as a role model, be motivating and encouraging to influence employees, delegate and empowering employees with responsibility, and align employees thinking with the organisations’ goals and ethical standards (Resick, Hanges, Dickson & Mitchelson 2006).

Finally they have to ensure proper ethical standards within the organisation, by executing ethical accountability within an organisation, done via rewards and punishment systems (Petrick & Quinn 2001). All this goes way beyond pure leadership integrity, and even though ethical integrity is an intangible asset of ethical leadership, it is merely a piece of the puzzle. As it is clearly demonstrated that ethical integrity is only one sixth of the characteristics required of an ethical leader and there are evidently numerous other influential factors and elements that contribute to ethical leadership which must be satisfied. This reinforces the statement that ethical leadership consists of various concepts with many fundamental elements included but is not mostly about ethical integrity. According to Gregory (2010) emotional intelligence is another clear influence and attribute of an ethical leader.

A data collected from 188 recruitment and leadership development companies that trained and promoted people into leadership positions, indicated that emotional intelligence was twice as important as Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and technical skills combined, as an indicator to leadership performance (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee 2002). Another competency research done in over 200 companies and organizations worldwide concluded that ethical leaders are 85 percent more productive than average workers, only one-third of the result is due to cognitive ability and technical skill, while two-third is due to emotional competence (Goleman 1998). With the statistics, it amplifies the positive correlation between a leader’s emotional intelligence and his effectiveness. In comparison to the multi dimensional concept required of an ethical leader stated earlier, a leader who has high emotional intelligence will also openly communicate ethical issues to display ethical awareness, motivate and inspire employees to stimulate an ethical organisation (Gregory 2010). Therefore ethical leaders with high emotional intelligence strongly reinforce both the moral person and moral manager traits and characteristics, hence demonstrating that ethical leadership is not mostly about ethical integrity, but is also heavily influenced by the emotional intelligence of an ethical leader. However, though there are many empirical evidences that prove that Leadership integrity is not the key to Ethical leadership, there is also a fair share of differing perspectives.

For instance, according to virtue ethics theory, a person’s moral decision is based on the individual himself (Murphy 1999). Whereby, a person with integrity is believed to be likely to behave with integrity according to the theory. Likewise a manager with leadership integrity would very likely expect his followers to act in accordance. This particular theory rebuts the idea of a moral person having such a distinctly separate relation with moral manager. In fact, integrity which is the basis of a moral person also forms the fundamental of a moral manager. Therefore, it is believed that these two should not be a separate entity and that it is only logical for a moral person with integrity, to behave accordingly to his fundamental values as a person and make decisions or take actions with integrity and strong conviction. It appears that Aquino & Reed (2002) further supports the point as they proposed that moral identity influences moral behaviour and people whose moral identity is self-important should be motivated to act in ways that are consistent with their understanding of what makes up a moral person.

In a study that  involves an analysis of survey data of expected and observed management behaviour in European business, a total of 469 respondents employed in 16 different countries participated in the statistic. Out of the 57 percent of respondents who responded that their managers routinely demonstrate his/her moral values to them, 68 percent of them felt that they were influenced by their managers in terms of ethical behaviours (Akker, Heres, Lasthuizen, & Six 2009). Given the above results, it is apparent that strong support for suggesting that having ethical leader with integrity indeed have a positive effect on employees’ own ethical behaviours. Employees are actually influenced by the way their managers conduct themselves which is a result of the managers’ own integrity and character. This is supported by social learning theory whereby it explains that individual can learn through observation and role-modelling process (Mayer, Aquino, Greenbaum, & Kuenzi 2012). As a manager, we would want our employees to follow our rules and ethical standards. However to be an ethical leader, one needs to act according to what he preaches and integrity is the cornerstone of preaching the right values. During instances whereby the leader does not have integrity or have a wrong concept of what are the normatively appropriate values, their actions taken and decisions made would not be ethically correct. This in itself shows the importance of Integrity in an ethical leader as well as the major role it play.

Although from the theory we learnt that leaders are able to influence employees’ behaviour, it is also not surprising that employees know when the right values are not being demonstrated by leaders and will not blindly follow wrong values taught by such hypocritical leaders. An ethical leader has to have the correct principle within himself as a person, and leadership integrity is the crux to the right moral values which would be further visible through their actions and decisions. Qualities of a moral manager can be acquired and trained over time through leadership workshops, however traits of a moral person is cultivated over the years through one’s upbringing and culture which cannot be changed overnight. This point as mentioned further emphasizes the importance and role of leadership integrity as the basis to being a strong moral manager and moral person which would eventually results in an ethical leader. Insights

Given the role model status and social responsibility of power, ethical leaders are highly influential and tend to replicate ethical behaviours to organisations and communities. In contrast unethical conduct of leaders can also have a profound negative impact on the organisation’s credibility and reputation. In order to ensure that an ethical organisation exists, which is directly created and stimulated by ethical leaders it is paramount to recognise “when” and “whom” should ethical leadership be practiced. Ethical leadership should be practiced all the time by anyone and it should come hand in hand with leadership integrity. There are no times when it is more appropriate than others, nor are there people for whom it is more appropriate than for others. In short, being an ethical leader is similar to being a moral person with integrity, it is a full-time job which it is not something that we can put on and off at will. Conclusion

Despite all the differing views, there is no one correct or standard definition for ethical leadership. This topic has been an ongoing debate over many years, as everyone holds a different perspective to the importance of all the attributes that contribute to being an ethical leader. Although integrity may be inevitable at corporate level in setting ethical standards, it is still tough to determine if it’s the most important aspect to ethical leadership. However one thing we can conclude from the essay is that the managers’ belief on leadership integrity has a direct drastic impact on how employees conduct themselves and make decisions in their workplace. In reflection, it may be tough to determine if ethical leadership is mostly about leadership integrity, nevertheless we can still be certain that leadership integrity sets ethical standards in organisations and is definitely an important factor leading to ethical leadership.

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