How To Be An Ethical Leader
Updated: Oct 20
In a post-Enron era where corporate scandals and their associated billion- dollar fines grace the news almost daily, there are increasing calls for ethics in the workplace.
While it might be obvious that ethical leaders set the right compliance culture, thereby reducing corruption within the organisation, it might be surprising to learn that ethical leadership could also improve innovative behaviour.
An ethical leader, as defined by Professor Linda Trevino, is both a ‘moral person’ with integrity who is honest and fair as well as a ‘moral manager’ who leads by example and rewards ethical conduct while disciplining unethical actions.
Academic research indicates that ethical leadership is positively related to innovative behaviour.
Because ethical leaders embody trust while simultaneously empowering their team, employees are encouraged to voice their concerns and new ideas, increasing their engagement with and commitment to the company. This improves productivity since employees are more likely to come up with ways to improve business processes and to apply these improvements to their work.
The following dimensions of ethical leadership from Dr. Karian Kalshoven may help you become an ethical leader and could encourage innovative behaviour in your team.
Keep your promises and do what you said you would. Lead by example and act with integrity according to what is morally right and not based on financial motivations. Be sincere, honest, and trustworthy, and don’t bend the rules even if no one will know.
Make decisions based on ethical principles and don’t show favouritism. Be fair to your subordinates by not holding them responsible for matters outside their control.
SHARE THE POWER
Empower your team by seeking their input on decisions and by delegating challenging responsibilities. This doesn’t mean you implement everything they suggest; being open-minded and willing to listen shows that you respect their views.
BE CLEAR ABOUT EXPECTATIONS
People need to know what their roles are and what is expected of them. Be clear about your subordinates’ responsibilities and how their performance will be measured.
PROVIDE ETHICAL GUIDANCE
Establish ethical codes of conduct and explain the consequences of unethical behaviour. Praise ethical actions, reprimand unethical conduct, and include ethical behaviour in your employees’ performance evaluation. What gets measured gets done!
BE A PEOPLE PERSON
This is not about being the life of the party, but is about genuinely caring about your team’s welfare. Your subordinates are not just resources to achieve corporate goals, but they are people first and foremost.
Don’t overlook common courtesies, such as greeting or thanking staff, which are easy to do when there are tight deadlines to meet. Making time for face-to-face contact and not just relying on e-mails will help build team relationships.
Support your employees in their roles and show empathy by trying to understand their perspectives. Take interest in their career development and promote some work-life balance that will make them happier, more productive, and less likely to fall sick.
Promote the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits. Don’t focus solely on financials, but prioritise acting ethically over revenues. Emphasise that it is better to lose a deal ethically than to win one through unscrupulous means.
Despite the many business benefits of ethical leadership, it should not be something implemented merely to encourage innovative behaviour; rather, it should be aspired to just because it is the morally right thing to do.
This article was originally published in 2014 on Gulf Business and remains as relevant today in 2019.
Jeanette Teh is an ICF Certified Transformation Coach. A former lawyer, Assistant Professor, and corporate trainer, she loves applying her background in Psychology, DISC behaviour styles, MBA, and Innovation to help people achieve their highest potential. Jeanette is a Bessern Advisor and Coach