Leadership Ethics:
An Introduction
Ronald F. White, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
College of Mount St. Joseph
Ontology of Organizational Leadership
The Great Man Theory of Leadership
Enduring Bias Within the Great Man Tradition
Prescriptive Moral Theories
Discussion Questions
Ontology of “Leadership Theory”
• Key Concepts in Leadership Theory
– Organizations
– Leaders
– Followers
– Relationships
• What is an Organization? (Facts)
– Organizations as cooperative/competitive
• Political, Business, Public (governmental), Military, Private
(non-governmental), Athletic, Musical etc…
• What is a “Good Organization.” (Values)
– Organizational Ends-worthiness of goals
• What does the organization attempt to do? (Descriptive)
• Are these ends good? (Prescriptive )
– Organizational Means-efficiency
• Are the means of achieving that end ethical?
• At what cost?
• What is a leader? (Descriptive)
– How do you become a leader?
• Natural Leadership
– Biology
» emergence
– Social Science
• How do you lose leadership?
• What is a good/bad leader? (Prescriptive)
– How do you become a good (or bad) leader?
• What is a follower? (Descriptive)
– How do you become a follower?
• Biology• Social Science
• What is a good/bad follower? (Prescriptive)
– How do you become a “good” (or bad) follower?
• Descriptive Relationships:
– How do leaders and followers relate to one
another in the “real world?” (is)
– How should leaders and followers relate to one
another? (ought)
History of Great Man Theory
of Leadership
• Great Man Theory
– origins
• Refinements to Great Man Theory
– Trait Theory
– Behavior Theory
– Relational Theory
• Transformative Leadership Theory
• Social Psychology
– Contextual Theory
• Complexity Theory
• Evolutionary Leadership Theory
Enduring Biases Within the
Great Man Tradition
LEADER BIAS: Followers are only “passive” responders to effective leadership, therefore, leadership ethics
trumps followership ethics.
HUMAN BIAS: Only human beings organize themselves, naturally, based on leadership and followership.
NATURE OR NURTURE BIAS: Leaders are either “born not made” (Nature) or “made not born.” (Nurture)
MALE BIAS: Leaders are always men.
HEROIC BIAS: Great leaders are “active” and accomplish “heroic acts.”
MACRO BIAS: Bring about macro-level, revolutionary social change
Blame the leaders not the followers
Lower-level leadership is less important
ETHICAL LEADERSHIP BIAS: Immoral and/or ineffective leaders are not “real leaders”
“ The Hitler Problem”
MORAL ABSOLUTES BIAS: Ethical Leadership involves conformity to universal moral rules, even at the
expense of efficacy and efficiency
INTERNAL MENTAL STATES BIAS: Ethical leadership is about internal states such as motives, intents, beliefs
No “Dirty Hands”
Ethical leaders morally “transform” malleable internal states of followers .
Rejection of “transactional leadership” (needs more research on incentives and disincentives) “Nudge”
ALTRUISTIC MOTIVATION BIAS: Altruistic motivation is necessary and sufficient for ethical leadership
Altruistic motives always trump efficacy
Moral absolutes
Prescriptive Moral Theories
• Cognitive Moral Theories
– Virtue-Based Theories» Good Leaders/followers are virtuous
– Teleological Theories» Good Leaders/followers are effective
– Duty-Based Theories» Good Leaders/followers follow rules
• Non-Cognitive Moral Theories
– Emotivism
– Constructivism
– Feminist Ethics
• Subjectivist Theories
– Cultural relativism
» There are no universal standards for ethical leadership
» Good Leaders/Followers are contextually sensitive
Discussion Questions
• Are there at least some universal facts of leadership that transcend
context, or is leadership entirely contextual?
– Are these universal facts embedded in human nature that transcend context,
or is leadership contextual?
• Are those facts shaped by biological determinants, cultural determinants, or both?
• Are leaders born, made, or both?
• Are there universal values of leadership that transcend context, or is
leadership ethics contextual?
– Are “good leaders” virtuous, effective, or dutiful?
– Are “good leaders” born, made, or both?
• Are prescriptive moral values descriptive biological facts?
• Are values discovered via scientific research?
• Are all prescriptive moral values descriptive cultural facts?
– Are values invented and transmitted via cultural evolution?
• Is there a difference between large-group morality and small group
morality, or are the product of one single set of biological facts?

Leadership Ethics: An Introduction