What Is Ethical Leadership?

Many of us like to view ourselves as leaders or, at the very least, as people who could become great leaders. But what exactly goes into making a great and effective leader? And how can you become a great leader yourself?

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You might ask “ what is my leadership style?” While there are many different styles of leadership, there are traits that all great leaders must have  to successfully lead their followers to greatness.

One of the important skills that separates a good leader from a great one is ethics. But what do those ethics need to look like?

Let’s take a look at what ethical leadership entails, how you can master the art of ethical leadership, and what sort of positive effects ethical leadership can have on a group or a business.

The Key Traits of an Ethical Leader

There are different ways to become an ethical leader, but the literal definition of an ethical leader is a person in leadership that shows and promotes “normatively proper conduct through personal actions and interpersonal relations.”

In order to be an ethical leader, there are a few key traits that you need to have. All of these traits and skills are essential if you’re going to consider yourself an ethical leader, and without even one of them, you may need to check  your leadership ethics or abilities and make some changes.

It’s also important to remember and understand what is the difference between leadership and management. However, ethics are important for both, so these traits are relevant to both leadership and management titles.

Openness to Evolving

In order for a business leader to be ethical, they have to be open to changing their ways.

At some point or another, a good leader is going to have to recognize that the way that they have always done things may not be the best way to keep doing things. As society evolves, so do the people in it. Your leadership style needs to evolve with those people and operate within the appropriate parameters of conduct as they change.

Ethics change and ethical leaders must change with them.

Respect for Everyone

Secondly, a strong ethical leader must have true respect for everyone that they’re going to be leading. They cannot show disrespect or think less of anyone, regardless of their age, race, gender identity, or seniority in the company or power structure of the organization they are leading.

If you enter a space with the idea that your respect must be earned, you could alienate yourself from others, creating a distrusting and hostile work environment. If you show more respect towards some employees than others, you make people feel as though they are being treated unfairly, which doesn’t make them feel confident following your authentic leadership.  

Approaching everyone with respect shows that an effective leader does not put themselves or certain people above others. It makes people more comfortable being led by you and gains their respect in return. 

Open Communication

Another key to ethical leadership is having open lines of communication within the network.

Others should feel comfortable coming to you for clarification and guidance and you should feel confident that you are communicating your expectations and goals to them.

One-sided communication, where you just speak at your employees or followers instead of discussing things with them, can create a power dynamic that discourages growth and collaboration. 

You must recognize that some of your employees may have better ideas and different perspectives than you and you have a lot to gain by hearing them out.

Leads By Example

Think about the last time you were working for someone who had a bad habit of micro-managing. How did it make you feel? Maybe it made you feel that they thought you were incompetent, that they didn’t trust you, that you didn’t have space to do your job the way that you wanted to.

Think about that in contrast with a manager that trusted you and even allowed you to fail until you found your way. You felt more motivated to work for them and you also felt like they wanted you to grow and succeed, right?

Do you know what is laissez faire leadership and are you interested in using this style? Leading by example is important in any case of ethical leadership and is all the more important if you’re taking more of a laissez-faire style of leadership . 

Show your employees how you want them to work, then trust that they will understand and follow in your footsteps. This builds mutual trust.

Possesses Defined Values

A leader can’t lead based on their values if they have none. The first step to becoming an ethical leader is to define specific values for yourself and for the people that you want to inspire to follow you.

Taking into account the general societal values of the time, adapt these conventions into a model for your own company or business. Set defined organizational values and an ethical standard that you want to exemplify and that you want your employees or followers to emulate.

Listing these things out tangibly is essential for laying the groundwork for your company’s culture. It lets people know exactly what your group is about and what standards you hold yourself to, allowing them to understand what is to be expected of them. 

If you know what is strategic leadership then taking this important step ahead of time can boost productivity and encourage strong ethics within yourself and your company.

Cares for Others

You can implement all of these ideals, but if they aren’t coming from an honest compassion for other people, they won’t mean anything.

An ethical leader must be a person who has genuine empathy for others. Ethical leaders truly care for others and wish to see them succeed on their own as well as with the company or organization that they are leading.

If a leader does all of these things in the name of a power grab, it’s all a performance and it won’t hold up over time. The truth always comes out in the end and if you don’t have ethical values and moral principles  as a person, the people you are supposed to be leading can see right through you.

How Can You Practice Ethical Leadership?

If you’re interested in using this knowledge and growing your own ethics as a leader, you’ll be happy to know that there are always ways on how to develop leadership skills.

Here are a few easy steps that you can take today to lead your followers in a more ethical way.

Be Aware of Any Biases You May Not Realize You Have

In order to truly show everyone equal respect, you have to do the work internally and personally. This will take doing some research into any sort of implicit biases that you may not even know that you have.

Today, there are plenty of free resources out there that can teach you how to identify and navigate those implicit biases. Until you address anything that may be compromising your own ethics, you cannot lead others from an ethical place.

Find Your Role Models

The next thing to do is seek out what role models you have. Think of an ethical leader that you admire. What sort of practices do they use to encourage their followers? How do they carry themselves in their own daily lives?

Study the way that they lead, the techniques that they use, and then emulate those yourself in your own leadership. Learning from the best is a great place to start building a good style of ethical leadership and can provide tangible examples of how it’s done.

Take Care of Yourself

Similar to doing the work on identifying anything that could be unknowingly compromising your own ethics, you need to do the work to take care of yourself.

Most of us have heard the term “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” and the same can be said of ethical leadership. 

The key to caring for others is taking care of yourself. Take the time to check in with your own emotional state. Recognize what challenges you’re facing in your own personal life and go about finding ways that you can help yourself address them and heal from them.

If you fail to do work on your own mental and emotional state, you will carry these issues with you and risk projecting them onto your employees or the people who follow you.

Encourage Open Communication

Last but not least, encourage the people you are collaborating with to communicate with you. It’s a long journey to become the ethical leader you want to be, and without feedback, it will be difficult to do the growing that you need to do to become the ethical leader you want to be.

See What Ethical Leadership Can Do for Your Business

Ethical leadership is the cornerstone for developing trust and effective communication within your company. For more information on how to exercise your ethics as a leader, visit Maui Mastermind to learn more about ethical leadership and what it looks like.

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What Is Ethical Leadership?
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What Is Ethical Leadership?
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Maui Mastermind Business Coaching
Business David is a Wall Street Journal and Business Week bestselling author of 11 business and financial books. A syndicated columnist for Inc.com and HuffingtonPost.com, David’s articles have appeared in over 6,500 publications. As the founder and CEO of Maui Mastermind®, David has worked with 100,000+ business coaching clients and community members to buy, build, and sell over $5 billion of businesses.