Ethical Leadership

Read this text, which explains how ethical leaders should treat everyone fairly and base their judgments on "coherent, generally-accepted principles" such as "honesty, justice, fairness, avoiding harm to others, taking responsibility for one's actions, [and] putting the greater good ahead of one's own interests".


Consider a dilemma: You are the director of a community-based human services organization that includes sites in several towns. A state budget crisis is threatening to reduce your funding by 30%. The head of the state funding agency suggests to you that you simply close down a site. That means both laying off dedicated staff members and denying services to a community and a group of people that has come to rely on you. Perhaps more important, it means deciding among several communities, to all of which you have made a commitment. How do you handle the situation?

Or think about this: You get wind from a contact at a foundation about a grant possibility that would be perfect for a collaboration with another organization. At the same time, you realize that your organization could probably successfully apply alone, and end up with a much larger amount of money than if you applied with a partner. In that case, the service you would provide would be somewhat narrower, but still helpful to the people you work with, and the funding would help with your administrative expenses. On the other hand, the other organization, with which you have a good working relationship, is in financial difficulty, and a grant like this would do a great deal to help it survive. What will you do?

These are ethical questions. Leaders of organizations, initiatives, and institutions – not to mention politicians – face them nearly every day, and have to make decisions. The decisions they make, as well as the ways by which they make those decisions, determine whether or not they are ethical leaders. Whether you direct a small organization, are in charge of a group in a larger organization, head a large agency or institution, or simply sometimes take an informal leadership role in your daily life, the issue of ethical leadership is one you cannot avoid. This section is about ethical leadership: what it is, why it is important, and how to practice it.