Home > Free Essays > Philosophy > Philosophical Concept > The Ethics of Leadership

The Ethics of Leadership Research Paper

Exclusively available on IvyPanda Available only on IvyPanda
Updated: Aug 1st, 2019


The concept of lies and the truth is a major aspect of ethics and leadership. Ciulla (2003) says that leaders should always be able to distinguish between lies and truth although ethical dilemmas may pose a challenge. The case study illustrates a situation where one person lies to protect the happiness of others. To this end, the manner in which people lie should have a deep analysis.

In the case study titled ‘Is a lie always a lie?’, the author proposes that not all instances of telling lies are always misleading. To achieve the greatest happiness and good, Ciulla (2003) asserts that an individual (leader) should be quick to judge the rationale behind some lies given that it may result to achievement of a greater good.

Lies in this case study are aimed at increasing the benefits of human beings and the organizations. Nevertheless, according to ethical considerations, lies are not morally upright and should not be applicable to any circumstance of human living.

Borrowing from the perspectives of renowned thinkers, I will use this paper to explain the case study and answer the question that it poses. The critical thinkers who constitute a huge part of the paper include Immanuel Kant, Bernard Williams, Hannah Arendt and Confucius. The paper will explain how the thinkers would handle the situation in the context of a business.

Main Explanations by Different Critical Thinkers on the Case Study

Immanuel Kant

  • Kantian ethics articulate that specific actions may not be the best solution for an ethical dilemma notwithstanding the fact that they may result to heightened happiness than alternative solutions.
  • In deciding on what to action to embark on, it is important to look at various standpoints that other people would hold when faced with the same situation.
  • If the action would receive disapproval from other people, Kantian ethics dictate that a leader should not make such a decision besides it is important to ponder on whether the course of action respects the fundamentals of human life and is not deriving happiness for the leader only.
  • According to Kantian ethics, the decision should not be disrespectful to human life and that all decisions are equal, and the leader should choose the decision that does not cause such inconsistencies.

Bernard Williams

  • Ethics according to Bernard revolve around the rejection of moral standpoints that Kantian ethics and utilitarianism explored.
  • He articulates that the moral theories and views capture an idealistic society that is not possible in human society.
  • To be precise, he asserts that human life is undeniably untidy to have a systematic way of explaining and predicting behavior.
  • His leadership model revolves around the ability of an individual to explain factors underpinning moral psychology and to self-awareness, which results from personal identity.

Hannah Arendt

  • Being a social theorist and a political scholar, her ethics revolves around political institutions.
  • She makes a distinction between various factors that involve the wide concept of freedom.
  • Particularly, she posits that freedom is not the nature of human beings but social organization results to the same.
  • Human beings construct both the truth and lie and may sometimes imply the truth in different contexts since argues that political space was only a construction of the human society to allow human beings to experience freedom.


  • The Chinese thinker allows no room for a lie in the social organization of human beings.
  • In particular, he explores the concept of virtue and asserts that a man of virtue will rarely be in able to sacrifice it for other things – even life.
  • To that end, he says that a lie is always as such given that an individual will always protect his/her virtue despite the likelihood to lie.
  • Virtue is therefore, the absolute guide to human action without which, a single society would not be possible.

Main Explanations by Different Critical Thinkers on the Case Study

The above thinkers would ultimately have different perspectives on the case that asks, ‘Is a lie always a lie? Kantian concept of ethics does not necessarily prohibit an individual from acting in a specific way. The rationale is that Kantian ethical model dictates that if other people would lie when faced with the same situation, it would be a good course of action.

Besides, if the lies were in the name of protecting human life and human dignity, there would be no such thing as a lie. To that end, a lie is not always a lie drawing from Kantian ethics. Kantian arguments draw inspiration from the thought that human beings face decisions and choices that make them prone to lying and making decisions that are in line with their convictions.

Human nature entails making hard choices some of which are to satisfy their self-interests. Although human beings are prone to such instances, Kant argues that human beings can always be in a position to distinguish the right decisions from the wrong ones. Hence, Kant asserts that judgment of acting in a particular way is important especially when the decision does not affect human dignity in any way.

Further, Bernard Williams would also hold the position that a lie is not necessarily a lie. The rationale is that human beings have different perspectives that cannot invite similar judgment. The reason for one person to act in a particular way is not necessarily the rationale for other people to act in the alternative or similar way.

The ethical standpoints held by Williams always point out that an individual is not always able to act in an acceptable way. To him, acting appropriately is the essence of human nature. In other words, he argues that a lie will ultimately result to cognitive dissonance implying that an individual can know when to lie and when not to tell lies.

If human beings can differentiate between lies and the truth, Williams says that a lie is relative and can lead to different decisions at all times. Hence, people tell lies in many instances to reap the greatest benefits that the truth cannot promise to match. Simply, he says that an individual will never tell the truth when lies can result to higher benefits.

For Arendt, a lie is a construction of the society and, it is not a part of human nature. As such, while some situations may not necessarily deem an action as a lie others may have a different perspective of the same action. Being a political and social philosopher, Arendt articulates that an individual gets a lot of influence from the socialization process.

The socialization process imparts social beliefs, values and attitudes to new members of the society. While some societies value the importance of telling the truth, others socialize their members differently. A lie therefore according to Arendt is that which contravenes the societal system and does not result to achievement of social objectives.

As such, a lie is not always a lie since the social processes are completely different. Besides, human beings are political creatures who will always want to have an advantage over the rest. Hence, every person will lie to create the advantage.

Confucius has no specific definition for a lie. This implies that virtues (jen), according to the thinker may not indicate that a lie is always a lie. However, if a decision to lie causes an individual to experience cognitive dissonance, it becomes a lie. According to the Confucian virtues, virtuous people value their basis of actions and sacrifice even their lives for the same.

Virtues will assist people to make the right choices in life and ensure that every person gets justice in all aspects of life. It is important to notice that virtues according to Confucius are explicit and allow people to make even the seemingly hard decisions.

As such, a lie will not be a lie if making the decisions that bring about the highest benefits for all people is the best. To him, virtue brings about happiness for all and does not aim to injure the rest of the society.

Essentially, Kantian ethics seem to explain the question in a subtle way. Kant simple view of lies was that a lie is a lie only if others would not lie given the same situation. Besides, if the lies uphold the sanctity and respect of human life, it is an appropriate action. To that end, the contexts in which people lie should be able to enhance human dignity and be rational. It is important to notice that the extents to which people lie are relative according to Kantian ethics.


Ethics and leadership are intertwined concepts that clearly dictate ways that an individual can make decisions that result to the greatest good for all stakeholders. The case presented by Ciulla (2003) on’ Corneas in Congo’ requires impeccable ability to make rational decision that yields more pleasure than pain.

In particular, the case explicates that the head of a small aid agency in Congo is currently experiencing a quandary on whether or not to import corneas from China. An aid agency had been in Congo to help refugees who are currently escaping wars and skirmishes in the region. It made a camp where children and displaced people can have shelter and health care.

Unfortunately, an increase in a parasite that causes infection of the corneas leading to loss of sight among the refugees has plagued the refugee camp. Indeed, the aid agency articulates that almost ten people have gone blind. The organization seeks to provide the victims with corneas transplants that could restore the sight of at least ten people by working with other partners.

Owing to the rising needs of corneas transplants, the leading organization in providing the corneas asserts that the number available is limited to restore the sight of all the ten people successfully. A Chinese firm emerges and promises to deliver twenty corneas given that the aid agency would provide it with medical supplies and a truck. The ethical question that emerges is the acquisition of the corneas.

The aid agency learns that the Chinese firm accesses the corneas and other body parts in a corrupt way. Despite the ethical dilemma, numerous people across the world are ready and willing to buy the corneas. Should the leader of the agency continue with the plans to acquire corneas from China?

Using the main ideas of ethical thinkers who include Mill, Rawls, Nietzsche and Tzu, this paper seeks to analyze that the leader of the aid agency could respond to the situation by making a decision that upholds ethics and enhances greatest happiness for all.

Main Ideas Presented By Various Critical Thinkers

John Stuart Mills

  • The critical thinker presents various ideas on ethics in leadership.
  • Utilitarianism is a major angle of leadership and ethics and it asserts that ethics ought to revolve around increasing the happiness of human beings and the society.
  • Besides, Mills articulated that utilitarianism enhances ethical decisions that minimize the pain of all individuals and ensure that communities have an improved life.
  • The critical thinker also explains that utilitarianism draws its basis from experience because leaders encounter many situations that require ethical decisions; they get the ability to act in an ethical way.

John Rawls

  • Being a contemporary philosopher, Rawls perceives ethics from different standpoints that his ethical theory emphasizes the importance of the leaders to uphold justice.
  • Borrowing from the concept of justice, Rawls pinpoints that human beings are able to uphold the concept of justice in all their judgments and decisions leading to a just and an ethical society.
  • Drawing from a hypothetical illustration, Rawls establishes the concept of original position, liberty principle and difference principle.
  • This way, Rawlsian ethics revolve around the importance of upholding justice for all people notwithstanding their socio-economic class.

Friedrich Nietzsche

  • The critical thinker borrows immensely from Shakespeare’s existentialism in the development of his ethics.
  • He disputes the assertions of other thinkers that human beings are able to judge right from wrong and good from evil.
  • He argues that the key concepts that underpin ethics in the contemporary world include immorality, master morality in addition to making decisions that go beyond what people regard as good and evil.
  • Additionally, he says that will power and slave morality are the main concepts that can assist leaders in making ethical decisions.

Sun Tzu

  • Tzu asserts that human beings ought to act morally and ethically to achieve success in their lives.
  • Particularly, Tzu wrote the book ‘Art of War’ and explicates that ethics are dependent on realism rather than idealism.
  • First, he says that conflicts from poor leadership decisions are intrinsically costly since he articulates that the person who indulges in war and defeats many men is unethical than a man who wins the war without fighting in the battle.
  • To him, success is not a matter of winning a contest among competitors but is dependent on avoidance of direct conflicts.

Main Articulations by Different Critical Thinkers on the Case Study

John Stuart Mills would resolve the cornea case in Congo by arguing from the standpoint of increasing pleasure and minimizing pain of the stakeholders. His articulations are that the head of the aid agency in Congo should make a decision that maximizes on the overall pleasure of all people and minimizes pain.

To that end, it is critical to ensure that the refugees are able to access corneas gained in an ethical way rather than accessing them from China where the corneas of criminals on death row are accessed without their consent. As such, Mills ethics dictate that the aid agency refuses the offer of the Chinese aid firm.

Rawls would not all allow the aid worker to access corneas from China. The rationale is that the aid agency would defy the basic principle of justice because the acquisition of corneas was unjust. The criminals convicted in China have no control of their body organs since the wardens access them when they die.

According to Rawls, not all people will access justice. Nevertheless, those who will access justice are more than those who do not. The patients in Congo therefore are few considering those whom the Chinese firm has denied justice. Indeed, they have already taken organs from more than twenty death row convicts.

Nevertheless, the convicted criminals are already dead making it a less ethical issue since they would have been convicted anyway.

For Nietzsche, the decision revolves around distinguishing between what is evil and good. Human beings are not always able to make the distinction. Hence, the aid agency should make a decision that brings about the greatest happiness.

The ability of human beings to make a distinction suffers constraints and as such, it is imperative to ensure that people in Congo receives the corneas as way of increasing happiness instead of focusing on the criminals who already have no other choice but to let the law take its cause.

Finally, Tzu’s ethics far outweighs the ability to make decisions based on the anticipated outcomes. He articulates that leaders should be in the forefront of reducing conflicts emanating from specific decisions. The decision for the aid agency should be in a position to reduce the conflict that may result.

The conflict of interests should not deny the Congolese refugees from accessing sight by ensuring that the ethical considerations should bring. This way, the refugees will receive the corneas without raising any ethical considerations that may be apparent with the aid agencies.

The ethical thinker who best resolves the ethical dilemma is John Rawls. Rawlsian ethics dictate that all the principles of justice are important in making such a decision. At the outset, it is important to recognize that justice implies that all human beings are able to not only access that which they think is just but also in a moderate way.

Liberty principle asserts that a leader should not focus on making a decision that brings about justice and happiness for all. This is in lieu of the fact that justice is not equal for all. As such, the aid worker should enhance justice by refusing to take the corneas from the Chinese firm. Although some people would suffer from blindness owing to the apparent shortage, Rawlsian ethics do not promise justice for all.


Ciulla, J. (2003). The Ethics of Leadership. New York: Thompson-Wadsworth Publishers.

This research paper on The Ethics of Leadership was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Research Paper sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

801 certified writers online

Cite This paper
Select a referencing style:


IvyPanda. (2019, August 1). The Ethics of Leadership. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-ethics-of-leadership/


IvyPanda. (2019, August 1). The Ethics of Leadership. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-ethics-of-leadership/

Work Cited

"The Ethics of Leadership." IvyPanda, 1 Aug. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/the-ethics-of-leadership/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Ethics of Leadership." August 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-ethics-of-leadership/.


IvyPanda. "The Ethics of Leadership." August 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-ethics-of-leadership/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "The Ethics of Leadership." August 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-ethics-of-leadership/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Ethics of Leadership'. 1 August.

Powered by CiteTotal, online reference generator
More related papers