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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ethics and Moral Courage in Leadership Positions



Organizations seek to develop stronger levels of ethical business practices in order to limit negative employee behaviors that can damage public image, lessen investor confidence, and improve upon contractual relationships with stakeholders. The first step in developing an ethical organization is to hire an ethical leader. Through proper leadership modeling in moral courage and ethical behaviors employees develop standards that apply to their own behaviors. 

Developing ethical organizations, and meeting the needs of people, requires strength of character (Hunter, 2003). It is difficult for leaders to deal with the multiple issues that often face them from competing interests. When leaders use an ethical value system they have an anchored value point that allows them to judge the validity of these competing interests. 

Strong leaders should have an impetus to act with moral purpose.  Such conation requires moral courage, moral efficacy and psychological ownership over one’s behavior (Hannah, Avolio, & May, 2011). Positive behaviors require an ownership over one’s life and responsibilities toward others. Such concepts need to be embedded in the way leaders view themselves and their purpose in leading.

Moral courage is “the ability to use inner principles to do what is good for others, regardless of threat to self, as a matter of practice” (Sekerka and Bagozzi, 2007, pp. 135).  It is a willingness to do what is in the best interest of others and the group even if one were to lose something of value. It can be further understood as, “a commitment to moral principles, an awareness of the danger involved in supporting those principles, and a willing endurance of that danger” (Kidder, 2005, pp. 7). 

Ethics and moral courage are associated but not exactly the same concept. Ethics is a minimal standard of behavior that avoids engaging in immoral actions (Treviño et al., 2006). It is more defined by compliance with the law, telling basic truths, and conducting business within standard societal constraints. It is a much lower level of investment in one’s decisions than moral courage. 

Ethical behavior also has a pro-social component. Moral courage is associated with the desire to use inner standards that encourage actions that help others (Sekerka & Bagozzi, 2007). It is this wider understanding of the needs of the group that creates a higher standards of existence. Through this moral courage one acts with effort to help others live happy and free lives based upon underlining principles of inherent value. 

Leadership has a huge impact on the moral and ethical actions of their organizations. Leaders impose significant influence on followers’ thoughts and behaviors related to ethical and moral expectations (Lester et. Al., 2010). It is through watching leaders that employees come to understand appropriate actions. 

Ethical and moral leadership is not easy when competing interests are pushing for certain results. However, such leadership can improve upon the overall financial and public image of the organization overtime. Furthermore, it creates workplace expectations and guiding behaviors that impact the  habits employees use to solve their own issues. Such ethical approaches require the focus on others beyond their own needs and the courage to follow through on guiding principles to make it happen despite the competing interests.

Hannah, S. T., Avolio, B. J., & May, D. R. 2011. Moral maturation and moral conation: A
capacity approach to explaining moral thought and action. Academy of Management
Review, 36.

Hunter, J. D. 2003. The death of character. New York: Basic Books.

Lester, P., Vogelgesang, G., Hannah, S., & Kimmey, T. (2010). Developing courage in followers: Theoretical and applied perspectives. In C. Pury & S. Lopez (Eds.), The psychology of courage: Modern research on an ancient virtue: 210-45. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sekerka, L. E., & Bagozzi, R. P. 2007. Moral courage in the workplace: Moving to and
from the desire and decision to act. Business Ethics: A European Review, 16,
pp. 132.

Treviño, L. K., Weaver, G. R., & Reynolds, S. J. 2006. Behavioral ethics in organizations:
A review. Journal of Management, 32, pp. 951-90.


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