Imagine you have been asked to support a company with their employee survey. You have done your research, compiled a questionnaire capturing common questions on employee attitudes such as job satisfaction, commitment, and participation and are now excited to present it to the CEO. You expect him to approve of the survey, but instead he yells “In what universe do you live?! We cannot ask people whether they feel supported and whether they perceive to have enough authority to decide things in their area of work or even beyond. Just imagine what this can provoke. Once we ask them about these things they will want to have them.” After a pause he continues: “We already have the problem that our employees always want explanations for our decisions. It’s not like in our branches in another part of the world where things are clear. People are told what they are supposed to do and they do it. This is how you achieve business results. But do you really? Is a style of leadership that does not at all consider employees’ needs the best – or even the only – way to be successful?
Leadership is about giving direction to people, setting goals, and, at the end of the day, achieving results. But can these goals only be achieved by being autocratic and by running a tight ship? Research suggests otherwise; numerous studies1 point to the fact that leaders of high integrity with a clear understanding of their own personal ethics, who establish and embed values into their organization and treat people with dignity and respect more often achieve sustainable organizational success. In other words: engaging in leadership with an ethical orientation pays off.
What is leadership with an ethical orientation?
As the name implies, leadership with an ethical orientation is about the ethical dimension of leadership. But what is ethical? Despite controversies about this question, most scholars in the field across the globe agree that acting in a benevolent manner, being honest and treating others respectfully and fairly can be seen as the basis of ethics across different cultures.
What does that mean with regard to the ethical foundation of leadership?