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Business Ethics

Developing Ethical Leadership Skills

An ethical culture will not emerge unless leaders play their full part in the process in bringing it into being and sustaining it. Ethical leadership should consequently be effective, and efficient at implanting an ethical approach and in setting an example to those around them. This includes what might be seen as seemingly trivial issues such as breaking a company’s email rules or telling or including on the email “rude” jokes and other material.

Four components of ethical leadership

It is not, however, enough to be ethical in one’s individual actions to be an ethical leader. In order to achieve substantive success, four components of ethical leadership should ideally be understood and developed. These are purpose, choice, responsibility, and trust.

The relationship between these four components can be visualized as interrelated components, but can each be described individually as follows:

  1. Purpose – The ethical leader reasons and acts with wider organizational purposes firmly in mind (reconciling its many stakeholders). This provides focus and consistency.
  2. Choice – The ethical leader has the knowledge to judge and act prudently. This knowledge is found throughout the organization and its environment, but must be shared by those who have the power to make decisions.
  3. Responsibility – The ethical leader has the responsibility to make decisions and act, but also recognizes that all those involved and affected must have the authority to contribute what they have to offer toward shared purposes.
  4. Trust and Growth – The ethical leader inspires-and is the beneficiary of-trust throughout the organization and its environment. Without trust and knowledge, people will be nervous about exercising their authority.

These four concepts are useful for leaders to test whether a general ethical perspective has been properly articulated and communicated to others.

The featured video clip is a short excerpt from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder eLearning program, Corporate Ethics: An RSB eLearning Course.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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