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Ethical Leader Characteristics Essay


In spite of the widespread study that focuses on leadership, the issue of ethical leadership continues to be challenged with inconsistencies, paradoxes, and contradictions. Desire to have ethical leaders has led to numerous changes in leadership styles. One of the recent leadership styles is transformative leadership.

Caldwell et al., posit, “One benefit of becoming a transformative leader is that greater trust will be developed between the leader and their followers” (2012, p. 176). Indeed, “…leadership is more about the followers than it is about the leader” (Bennis Caldwell et al. 2012, p. 176). Without followers, there can be no leader.

An individual becomes a leader if he or she has a group of people that he mobilizes to pursue a mutual objective. Bennis and Nanus allege, “To merit the trust of organizational stakeholders, the leaders of tomorrow’s organization must raise their standards, demonstrate their character and meet the expectations of a cynical but increasingly complex world” (2007, p. 123).

Bennis and Nanus posit that for a leader to succeed one ought to entrust cohorts with activities, transform the cohorts into leaders, and transform the leaders into instruments of change. The sentiment proves that for a leader to succeed, he or she has to depend on his followers.

A leader can hardly succeed in achieving organizational goals without drawing the followers close. The role of a leader is to oversee organizational operations and give advice on areas that require changes. Consequently, a leader has to rely on followers for all organizational activities.

Caldwell et al. (2012) formulated a “transformative leader” model that leads to ethical leadership by emphasizing on the importance of ethical practices like charisma, humility, values, principles, and servant leadership as some of the tenets of a transformative leader. According to Caldwell et al. (2012), a transformative leader is a servant leader. The leader ought to devote his or her attention to the interests of his or her subjects.

Caring about others is one of the organizational ethics. Charisma refers to the ability of a leader to inspire others. By emphasizing on charisma in their “transformative leader” model, Caldwell et al. implies that a leader ought to establish a cordial relationship with followers. Charismatic leaders back an exceedingly moral purpose. Hence, a leader that meets the model would surely be ethical.

Mayer et al. allege, “A good ethical leader should first of all be truthful to themselves before they can effectively lead others” (2012, p. 152). Without moral identity, it would be difficult for a leader to become an ethical example. Moral identity is associated with good behavior like charitable giving.

A leader with moral identity treats all the followers with equality and is trustworthy. Conversely, a leader that does not have moral identity exhibits unethical features like dishonesty and greed. Hence, such a leader does not portray ethical behavior and cannot be an ethical example to cohorts.

Employees learn through observing their leaders. Hence, majority of the employees borrow their behaviors from their leaders (Mayer et al. 2012). A leader without moral identity would lead to employees becoming corrupt. Such a leader lacks self-regulatory mechanisms, which promote ethical behaviors. Consequently, he portrays unethical behaviors, which he or she transfers to cohorts.

For leaders to promote ethical behavior in organizations, they need to appreciate all the followers that behave in an ethical manner and reprimand, or even punish those that behave unethically. Punishing followers that behave unethically would go a long way towards promoting ethical behavior in an organization.

Rewarding employees that behave ethically would not have a significant impact in promoting ethical behavior (Fielder 1986). For instance, some followers could be using their unethical behavior to enrich themselves at the expense of the organization. In such an instance, rewarding followers that behave ethically would not deter the unethical followers from pursuing their immoral activities.

Nevertheless, punishing such employees by dismissing them, imposing enormous financial penalty, or withholding their salaries would compel them to change their behavior. Majority of the employees struggles to get jobs (Fielder 1986). After getting the job, they settle down and forget the challenges they faced when looking for a job.

Eventually, they cease to appreciate their employment and engage in activities that are detrimental to an organization. The best way to prevent such cases happening in an organization is to impose severe punishment on employees or cohorts that behave unethically. This would discourage the employees from engaging in unethical behavior.

While this may sound plausible theoretically, it does not manifest itself in most cases. Even though some followers refrain from unethical behavior due to fear of losing jobs, those that benefit from the behavior hardly abandons it despite the threat of facing severe punishment.

In most cases, such threats only intensify their behavior as they try to reap enough before facing the punishment or losing their jobs. In other cases, such followers change their ways of propagating unethical behavior to avoid being noticed by their leaders. Hence, the organization continues incurring mysterious loses that it cannot blame on a particular follower.

There is a strong relationship between transformative leadership and trait theories of leadership. Trait theories focus on personal characteristics like personality, decisiveness, cooperativeness, and persistence (Derue et al. 2011). A leader with these features is likely to be successful. On the other hand, a transformative leader uses his or her traits to influence others. For instance, the leader applies his or her decisiveness to win trust from cohorts.

A decisive leader makes followers believe in goals they are pursuing, thus, dedicating their energy to the goals. Similarly, individual’s personality determines if one gains support from their followers. Furthermore, transformative leadership is associated with the contingency theory of leadership effectiveness. The theory suggests, “Leadership effectiveness depends on the interaction of two factors: the leader’s task or relations motivation and aspects of the situation” (Fielder 1986, p. 34).

Relations motivation is determined using coworkers that a leader prefers least. If the coworkers score high, it implies that the leader has managed to transform the workers into embracing organizational goals. On the other hand, if they score low, it means that the leader has not transformed the workers. In other words, employee commitment depends on the level of transformation a leader instills in them.

The concept of moral identity discussed in “transformative leader” model devised by Mayer et al. (2012) aligns with trait theories of leadership. Trait theories of leadership focus on personal aspects like personality, judgment, sociability, decisiveness, and socioeconomic background.

These aspects influence how a leader behaves. For instance, one’s judgment and personality are what determine if a leader becomes compassionate, caring, and honest. On the other hand, moral identity is what makes leaders exhibit certain traits. Hence, moral identity leads to either ethical or unethical traits.

Reference List

Bennis, W & Nanus, B 2007, Leaders: Strategies for taking charge (2nd ed.), Harper-Collins, New York.

Caldwell, C, Dixon, R, Floyd, L, Chaudoin, J, Post, J & Cheokas, G 2012, ‘Transformative Leadership: Achieving Unparalleled Excellence’, Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 109 no. 2, pp. 175–187.

Derue, D, Nahrgang, J, Wellman, N & Humphrey, S 2011, ‘Trait and behavioral theories of leadership: integration and meta-analytic test of their relative validity’, Personnel Psychology, vol.64 no. 1, pp. 7-52.

Fielder, F 1986, ‘The contribution of cognitive resources to leadership performance’, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, vol. 16 no. 1, pp. 532–545.

Mayer, D, Aquino, K, Greenbaum, R & Kuenzi, M 2012, ‘Who Displays Ethical Leadership, and Why does it Matter? An Examination of Antecedents and Consequences of Ethical Leadership’, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 55 no. 1, pp. 151–171.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Ethical Leader Characteristics'. 25 May.

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