File - Train, Equip, And Mentor

Ethical Failures
Samuel P. O’Donnell
LEAD505 Ethics in Organizations
March 26, 2013
Dr. Roger Fuller
Southwestern College Professional Studies
Ethical Failures of Leadership
Ethics in Organizations cannot be separated from the ethics of its leaders and followers.
A virtuous leader will either produce virtuous followers or they will typically leave the
organization. Any organization that tolerates unethical behavior is destined to encounter more
unethical behavior. Most often the immorality of the decision was never in question. Stated
differently the people involved knew their actions were unethical or immoral but chose to act
anyway. When there is an ethical failure on the part of a leader, people often question the
leaders’ behavior (Ciulla, 2004, 129). The volitional component of ethics states that ethics
violations stem from readiness to participate in the unethical behavior and not a lack of stamina
and nerve on the part of the leader involved (Ciulla, 2004).
Ethical Failures
Ethical failures occur because a leader believes he or she can get away with the deed or is
somehow more entitled to an object. The leader justifies their behavior by these exceptions.
This process is called Justification of exception. The perpetrator has knowledge of the
immorality of the situation but justifies the behavior or deed. The volitional account of
leadership states that people behave morally as long as sanctions exist for immoral conduct.
When there is no longer a framework for moral restrain people often behave immorally because
they believe they can get away with dishonest actions. Leadership requires a change in the
leader’s perception of self-interest. Ludwig and Longnecker propose the forcing or morality and
self-interest together again (Ciulla, 2004). However, their belief that egoism is the cause for
ethical failure and constraints are the solution leaves out the issue that the moral psychology of
leaders has changed due to their changed thinking about morality. Counter to this thinking is the
cognitive account of ethics. This account considers mistakes on the part of the leader in terms of
content and scope (Ciulla, 2004). A mistake of content considers the how we think about
morality while mistakes of scope represent the extension of the protections of morality to certain
people and not to others. This understanding leads us to consider some types of leadership.
Major types of leadership include transformational, transactional, and transforming
leadership. Transactional leadership is the process where the leader provides something for the
follower’s compliance. What the leader provides can be positive rewards or negative sanctions.
Transformational leadership is said to be the highest level of leadership. Under the
transformational model the leader mentors the follower and the end result is the follower reaches
a greater level than that of the leader/mentor. There is one more type of leadership I feel
warrants consideration, transforming leadership. This type of leadership is that which changes
the employee. Franklin Roosevelt is a prime example of a transforming leader. People that work
with a transforming leader are transmuted by the leadership of this person.
The transactional model has been the arguably the most prevalent type of leadership
because it is easier to apply than the other models and the results are immediate.
Transformational leadership advocates the best interest of the follower, helping them to become
better than the leader while transforming leadership champions the radical change of a person.
These two represent the highest forms of leadership and require the most involvement by the
leader and follower because more time and effort is required of all parties involved.
Evolving Leadership
Leadership is a continually evolving process and there are no simple solutions to
leadership issues. Each situation presents its own peculiar set of circumstances. Ethics is an
integral part of the leadership equation. The ethics of the leader determine his or her level of
leadership and the amount of influence the leader has is contingent on the amount the followers
feel they can trust the leader. John Maxwell rightly observes that followers will get behind a
leader and vision if they like both (Maxwell, 2007). I witnessed an event that forever changed
my own perception of leadership. I was deployed to the Middle East with a group of people
from my home base. We had some down time and some of the people I was with chose to spend
the time reading or watching movies. One young man took it upon himself to take two nonfunctioning, complex, machines and make one. He worked on this project for several days.
When he finished he had one piece of equipment that ran beautifully. Ethical leaders must fight
the temptation to abuse their position of authority (Pierce, 1984). The man we worked for failed
in this regard. He walked through the work area and asked why the young man was wasting his
time on junk. When this pseudo-leader left the young man threw the shop rag he was wiping his
hands on up in the air and said “that’s it! From now on he gets a C+ effort.” This event was a
prime example of pseudo transformational leadership in action. The superintendent had one goal,
his own advancement. This truth was evident when he used the young man’s success in his own
award package. True leaders act with integrity and expect the same of their followers (Manz,
1998). Jesus was the greatest example of a transforming leader. He taught a deontology that
was based in action and intent oriented (Rae, 2009, 42).” It is for this and many other reasons I
label the superintendent a pseudo-transformational leader. The people that followed him had
other names for him and the majority of them are not fit to print in an academic paper. He
received his medal but it cost him greatly in terms of influence. His lack of ethics resulted in
censure by the chief of maintenance and, more importantly, the loss of trust by the people that
followed him.
Ethical failures in leadership exact a high cost for an organization, its leaders and
followers. Mahatma Gandhi identified seven things that would destroy us. Among them was
“Commerce without morality (Covey, 1991, 90).” The accuracy of his statement all these years
later is chilling. There has been a noticeable increase in court convictions, recall of elected
officials and forced resignations of key leaders involved in various scandals in recent years
(Kellerman, 2004). It is not surprising that so many companies and governments are taking these
ethical failures seriously. James Hunter observes the leader with true authority makes sacrifices
and difficult choices (Hunter, 1998). The days of tyrannical bosses lording over their employees
are soon to be a distant memory. The leader that is willing to make sacrifices and difficult
choices will build a greater level of influence among their followers (Hunter, 1998). My hope is
that there will be more of us willing to do what is right by modeling true ethical behavior.
Ciulla, J. B. (2004). Ethics, the heart of leadership. Westport , CT: Praeger Publishers.
Kellerman, B. (2004). Bad leadership: What it is, why it happens, why it matters. Boston.
Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press.
Manz, C. (1998). The leadership wisdom of Jesus: practical lessons for today. (1st ed. ).
San Francisco, California: Berrett-Koehler.
Maxwell, J. (2007). The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Hunter, J. C. (1998). The servant. New York, NY: Crown Business.
Rae, S. (2009). Moral choices. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. (Rae, 2009)
Pierce, T. (1984). Ministerial ethics, a guide for spirit-filled leaders. Springfield, MO:
Logion Press. (Pierce, 1984)