Ethical Leadership – A Personal Exploration

Someone like Martin Luther King Jr. has inspired generations with his ethical leadership against racism and marginalization. Without a doubt he was a master at captivating a crowd. He raised public consciousness about racism, and his dream of ending discrimination and segregation across the United States. But, there are other amazing ethical leaders who do NOT necessarily take to the stage so easily — people like Mother Teresa or Ghandi. They were typically more quiet and methodical, yet still revered for their ethical perspectives on humanity.

Mother Teresa

So, it’s not about how someone can necessarily inspire a crowd — ignite their emotions. No, its something else that makes an ethical leader truly special.

So, I went looking …

This year I chose to devote some of my ‘thinking time’ to exploring Ethical Leadership. It’s been a fascinating journey so far, and I’ve only just begun. During my exploration I have taken the time to reflect on a few things.

I thought I’d share some of the more recent ones with you …


Some choices require an acknowledgement that one’s own ethical code may be challenged when we’re confronted with two or more options that consider different values — for example, HONESTY and TRANSPARENCY. Our desire is to be both honest and transparent, but sometimes we can’t always be transparent if we, for example, need to hold a truth out of respect for another person. We might be holding an uncomfortable truth about someone, and then need to decide if it should be shared or not — not always an easy decision.

EXAMPLE: You’ve been provided with some confidential information about a person, but you have also been asked by others to share it. What action do you choose and why?


Sometimes we know what we need to do in a situation, but are reluctant to follow through because we are seeking to avoid confrontation or conflict. While it may be easier to avoid the uncomfortable situation, by doing so we may be invalidating our own value of integrity.

EXAMPLE: You hear something that is highly inappropriate about a person, but you decide to avoid a conversation with the person who said it because you are worried about potentially tarnishing the relationship.


We are more ethical when our decisions and actions are consistently driven by our values. When we choose to intervene with our emotions or seek a path that is easier, we can find ourselves behaving in a way that does not align with our spoken values.

EXAMPLE: Do you consistently behave with Integrity when you disagree with a decision someone has made, or do you sometimes choose a path of negative commentary about the person because it’s easier or might even be a popular response?


Do you work in an organization that values the same ethics that you believe in? To be true to yourself, and to be the ethical person you strive to be, these two worlds need to be in alignment.

EXAMPLE: Is your personal belief in Honesty one that is emphasized in your business, or does the business value other things more highly like profits?


You are perceived as more ethical when people see your consistency in your words and actions, even when you find yourself in challenging or awkward situations. Are you consistent in the application of your values? Do you do the ‘right’ thing even when it is uncomfortable?

EXAMPLE: When you hear a disparaging, untrue or unprofessional comment about someone, do you consistently speak up against it — do you honour your values of integrity and honesty to stand up for what is right?

The importance of Ethical Leadership is extremely relevant today. We are seeing more challenges to our moral codes at work, in our communities and around the world. Social media can often sink to the lowest form of commentary — insults and accusations — rarely based on fact, but instead be based on simple ‘shock and awe’. Do you sink to that level or rise above it?

Here are some examples of life events that can confront us — that challenge us to stay true to our values and be visible in what we believe. Do you stop to consider how you will respond? Do you remind yourself of your values and take an ethical stand?

– Witnessing systemic racism against people of colour or ancestry

– Reading social media insults or misrepresentations of people’s character

– Hearing harassing comments towards others


As I’ve delved deeper into the topic of ethics, I’ve come away with a few things:

Pause before acting and reflect on what values are present and how you can make them visible.

Be consistent and stay true to your values — every time.

As a leader you will be challenged most every day on the path you are taking — challenge yourself to take the one that is most ethical. Being consistent is probably the most important part of being ethical. And, by itself, consistency does not make a person ethical, but in its absence you will be viewed as lacking this critical leadership trait.

I’m certainly not perfect. I’ve made my mistakes along the way, but I try to be better — more reflective, more consistent, more representative of my values. I strive to be that strongly ethical person.

Do not shy away from a challenge because because it is hard — Instead, tackle it because it is.

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