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What are Leadership Ethics?

Updated on December 6, 2012
Leadership ethics is guided by one's personal ethical code.
Leadership ethics is guided by one's personal ethical code. | Source

Leadership and Ethics

"A great leader's courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position."

—John Maxwell, Author, Speaker and Pastor

Leaders are visionary people with foresight to guide and influence people towards accomplishment of goals. They have the ability to inspire and empower subordinates to develop objectives and strategy in the attainment of goals. Leaders are noted by their passion, maturity, personality, integrity and character. Honesty and Fairness are an attributes highly valued by their subordinates.

Leading by example is the best approach to management as it sets high standards of excellence and serves the greater good. It is imperative a leader accepts responsibility and accountability of organizational goals, and he or she must focus on the strengths needed to achieve success.

As one can see, a leader has a broad scope in leading by example. Although it would be highly effective to possess all the qualities mentioned above, it is not likely a leader will have them all. Theories state that leaders are born and not created, however, there are certain traits a leader must hold in order to lead well. This article will cover the importance of leading by ethical standards in decision making.

Leadership Quotes

Nothing so conclusively proves a man's ability to lead others than what he does from day to day to lead himself. —Thomas J. Watson, IBM

The minute you make up your mind that what you do makes a difference, it will make a difference in what you do. —H. G. Gelatt

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. —Albert Schweitzer

The integration of one's personal principles and professional voice is what brings strength, passion, and power of persuasion to leadership. —Linda Espinosa

Morality is the best of all devices for leading man kind by the nose. —Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher

Resource On Leadership Ethics

Leadership Traits

Leaders are under the scope of those around them as they lead towards goals. Unless a person's leadership inspires others to follow, they may be leading a silent marching band. They have followers but the people are not participating, nor do they carry the team flag before them.

A leader must influence others to follow, and people only follow leaders who demonstrate character and inspire. The work environment is established upon leaders who are ethical and lead with good intention.

The following traits are marks of good leadership:

  • Character —subordinates see a person who has strong faith and is trustworthy.
  • Servitude —a good leader places the interest of others before his or her own.
  • Competence —the ability to complete a job and to produce results.
  • Fair —sticks to policy, plays by the rules, is open-minded and listens well.
  • Honesty —always presents the obvious, what is true and doesn't misrepresent the facts.
  • Caring —compassionate towards others, forgiving and demonstrates kindness.
  • Respect —considers others feelings and thoughts, treats others with great respect.
  • Community Oriented —gets involved in the local community, also helps to develop community in the workplace.

Ethical Leadership Advice

Ethical Decision Making

Every time you make a choice, you choose your character. — Unknown

Each semester I begin my class on ethics sharing the basic definition, "ethics is knowing what is right and wrong, but choosing to do what is right" with my students. Ethics is having good intentions based upon appropriate values, morals and principles useful in guiding our decisions. As a leader one must possess the ability to make ethical choices after analyzing facts, consulting with wise mentors as needed and then taking action. Developing a reliable method for decision making helps establish a pattern for success. The chart that follows is one I recommend to my students as a standard for leadership with excellence. If you can check off each step with positive results, then you are making a morally good choice.

Asking yourself these questions will help to eliminate what is inappropriate and to choose what is ethically good.

Is it fair? Is your choice one that does not take advantage of others? Is it open-minded and allows for the consideration of another point of view?

Is it legal? You must check resources to ensure your decision is not breaking any law or regulation. Nothing is worse than leadership that is deceptive as it will lead to mistrust from subordinates.

Can I sleep at night making this decision? Is your decision one that will allow you peace of mind? Can you honestly say that it was the right thing to do on behalf of others?

Will this become a standard? If this is followed through, will it become the norm for subsequent issues? And, if it does become the norm, will it lead to harmony for the greater good?

Can I explain it to my mother? Would you be able to sit down with your mother, or father, or grandparent, or even your child to share your decision without guilt or shame? If it were posted in the morning paper would you be proud of your decision?

Ethics Quiz

Do you believe leadership ethics are intrinsic; they only come from within?

See results

A Model for Leadership Ethics

Those who have served will gain an excellent standing. —First Book of Timothy (NIV Bible)

Leaders of excellence expand their morals to include universal truths that motivate others to respond. They hold an image of competence earned by successfully communicating their message. By listening to others, they know who they are leading and in turn know how to empower to accomplish goals.

According to John Maxwell, Leadership Consultant, leaders should be committed to excellence, never settle for average, pay attention to detail and perform with consistency. I would add hard work and discipline to the list. Working with persistence gets the job done, even if it requires working long hours some days. The do-it-now attitude will build an attitude of consistency and eliminate procrastination damaging to work and personal life.

What I have always admired in leadership is the ability to admit when a mistake is made. Dale Dauten, Business Management Columnist, states, "Being wrong is underrated. Admitting you were wrong is wisdom gained." Followers respect a leader who is honest when it is difficult to admit an error and it falls short of reaching a goal. Courage is a strong quality and indicates strength of character.

Lastly, a person who honors their commitments is worthy of leadership. Their ethical belief of obligation connects them to subordinates who will engage in their own role with enthusiasm and passion to produce results.


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    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Raul, those leaders who do follow ethical guidelines make lasting impressions and are worth following. Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

    • Raul Sierra profile image

      Raul Sierra Jr 

      5 years ago from El Paso, Texas

      Love the subject matter. In my experience too many managers lack these leadership qualities. I plan on forwarding your hub. Thanks

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Ocfireflies, so sorry I didn't see your post earlier. Thank you for your positive support of this topic. Our working world depends upon ethical leadership, it is what will pave the path for future leaders.

      Crafty, my reply is way late, please forgive me. Yes, leadership is more than a paycheck. I hope you are having a wonderful day.

      Yadav, good leaders know the importance of making decisions that will not only help the company, but the people. Thanks for your feedback. Enjoy your upcoming weekend.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      5 years ago

      This is an excellent article. When someone in a leadership position just looks at it like a paycheck, it brings the whole body down. Everything you say in this article is very true.

    • ocfireflies profile image


      6 years ago from North Carolina

      This article touched me in a profound way. I have worked for some of the best leaders and some of the worst. I learned valuable lessons from both, but the main lesson I learned is at the heart of your article which is the positive impact a good leader can make, and those who make the best leaders lead ethically and honestly. Thanks so much.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Martie, it is sad that people never have the opportunity to use their potential in life, especially when it comes to leadership. Too many times they accept following and then become unhappy with the road they travel. Great reflection and so glad you stopped by to add this comment. Take care and God bless you.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Excellent hub about Leadership!

      Sadly, many are born with leadership qualities, but never get the opportunity to develop leadership traits. Like people born with the talent to play a music instrument, but never get the opportunity to learn how. Or they do get the opportunity, but in the wrong course.

      Voted up and excellent. Thank you, teaches :)

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      X-con, I like your idea but I think they already have these values posted and probably is recommended reading -- don't think it matters much to some. Just saying . . . Thanks for your comment, enjoyed your visit, and hope your day is going great.

    • X-Con profile image


      6 years ago from The Free World!

      Voted up and useful. You should e-mail this to every politician IN THE WORLD.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Yes, there are some people who can lead naturally, but others can acquire skills of leadership applicable to business and life situations. Thanks for your added insight, Vinaya. Hope your day is going well.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      6 years ago from Nepal

      Wonderful article on managerial skills. I believe some people are natural born leaders, while others are trained leaders.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Hi Ruchira! Thanks for stopping by to read this article. I always enjoy your comments and positive support. May your day be a good one!

    • Ruchira profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      Great writeup Dianna.

      Being a leader is difficult since making decisions can impact others lives, but asking the above questions before signing off those papers can definitely ease the journey.

      Voted up as U/I/A and sharing i across

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Hello Dwachira,

      Wish all leaders would capture the importance of good listening skills. It does help to lead well when you care and can deliver fair judgement. Integrity is tops with me! Thanks for your add to this conversation. Take care.

    • dwachira profile image

      [ Danson Wachira ] 

      6 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Hi teaches12345,

      I have learnt that the gift of being a good listener is most important especially when you are in leadership, that way one can deliver fair judgement with integrity. Thanks for sharing this, voted up, useful and more.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Rajan, thanks for your visit and comment. I imagine you have some very good leadership ethics that can be shared as well. Have a great week!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      Nice to be educated in leadership ethics. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago


      Glad to know the hub is hitting home on leadership. Thanks for your visit and support. Enjoy our week and stay safe.

    • EuroNinila profile image

      Fotinoula Gypsyy 

      6 years ago from NYC BABY

      If only all leaders/ Bosses or authoritative figures could read this! Thanks for sharing!

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Love, I agree that ethics comes from intrinsic values and from interaction with others. It's learning from experience what is good.

      Anglnwu, role modeling excellence is always a good leadership skill. Very much what I love to see in a leader or manager.

      Nifwlseirff, your insight on the long term vision is right on. We cannot expect to lead well when we make selfish, ecotistic decisions in the short term.

      Deborah, I would hate to have to work in an envrionment where ethics was not a part of decision making. Good for you! Glad you found a better work place.

      Thanks to each of you for stopping by and for contributing valuable comments to the topic. God bless!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 

      6 years ago from Iowa

      Great article! I see too many people in leadership positions in the corporate world today who lack these traits. In fact, poor leadership was one of the main reasons I left my former company. But I am now fortunate to work in a company with excellent leadership. It makes all the difference in the world.

    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 

      6 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      Ethical leadership - something that is rare in today's world. Too often managers bow to pressure and make non-ethical decisions, which may help the company in the short term, but longer term they typically cause problems and increase employee unhappiness.

    • anglnwu profile image


      6 years ago

      Very informational. I agree leaders should lead by example, perhaps the best way to gain the respect of followers. Rated up.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      A very good presentation. I found this hub useful. I also took the quiz. I believe that intrinsic values are a combination of both values and experience.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      RTalloni, I am teaching Ethics this module and just thought it would make a great topic since students enjoyed the advice as well. Thanks for your support here and have a most wonderful day. You are such a great support to me.

    • RTalloni profile image


      6 years ago from the short journey

      Well done, no surprise, and evidenced by the fact that your post has generated compelling comments, again no surprise. Thanks for this hub on leadership ethics. I hope it will be highlighted many times over and I'll do my part to help that happen.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Alocsin, the bad apples get all the attention and the good ones just stay in the basket doing their job. I agree that there are many, many ethical leaders out there -- they just don't shine as much in public notice. Thanks for your added value here. Enjoy your weekend.

      Vellur, I admire a leader who keeps his commitments and leads with passion -- it shows he cares. Thank you for adding to the value of the topic. I hope your day is going well.

      Docmo, ethics is cover is all in leadership, I agree! Your visit has added quality and wisdom here. I appreciate it. May your day be filled with all good things.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      6 years ago from UK

      Excellent words Dianna- there are many traits of a leader: visionary, charismatic, communicative, strong, flexible, creative, caring- but a strong ethical code trumps them all and encompasses the moral code that should drive it all and make all other traits meaningful- well done!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      6 years ago from Dubai

      As you have stated a true leader is not afraid to accept his/her mistake. You have said it all in the last few lines -

      "Lastly, a person who honors their commitments is worthy of leadership. Their ethical belief of obligation connects them to subordinates who will engage in their own role with enthusiasm and passion to produce results." A great write, voted up and shared.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      It's unfortunate that the media chooses to highlight leaders who have either strayed or who show bad ethics. There are still many good leaders out there who follow these principles. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Hello TeacherJoe! I believe you are right; teaching it early in life will help turn our society into a better place for everyone. Thank you for the blessing and support. May you be blessed in return for your support and encouragement.

    • teacherjoe52 profile image


      6 years ago

      Good morning teaches.

      This is bang on. When you teach this there will be better morality not just in business, but in the community and most important in the home. We need this taught from primary school all the way up.

      May God reward you richly for teaching such an important aspect of life.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Dr BJ, passion is a driving force for leadership within a company and a mission statements keeps them focused on what they are all about. So true and glad you added this thought to the post. Enjoy your weekend.

      Alicia, good leadership is what makes a company stand out from its competitors. Yes, it can have impacting consequences! Your comment is valuable to the topic -- thank you.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting and useful hub, Dianna. Being a leader is an important job and can have huge consequences! Thank you for publicizing some important traits of a good leader and for sharing your tips, knowledge and opinions about leadership ethics.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      I do agree with your excellent list of leadership traits, Dianna, and I would add two more. Having worked as an Executive Coach with dozens of senior executives, I found two more traits that outstanding leaders possess. One - passion for the company and its product/service. Two - a mission statement they can articulate to help lead and guide their employees.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Crystal, thanks for coming by today. Ethics is a topic all of us can benefit from reading. I need to remind myself every day of the good I can go by following through on it! Take care.

      Janine, compassion does mark a leadership of excellence. If you cannot relate to those your lead with care, you are going to miss the mark everytime when it comes to reaching goals. Excellent add! Enjoy your weekend.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      6 years ago from New York, New York

      I took many business classes in my undergraduate work (for business management) and even in my graduate work (for education) and learned time and again about what a good leader embodies, but will tell you this one of the best qualities a leader can possess is compassion, because without this you are definitely not doing your job effectively nor are you truly relating to subordinates. Have of course voted up and shared all over!!

    • crystaleyes profile image


      6 years ago from Earth

      Well-written and methodical article teaches, thanks for discussing the traits of an ethical leader.. I feel all should read this article very well.. Voted Up

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Faith, I love the reference to 1 Chr. 29:17. That is a great ethical standard. Our county has established a commision of ethics for the purpose you stated and work to improve. It is the very core of all professions, as you stated. Thank you for your support and valued comments. I hope your Thanksgiving as also good and may God continue to bless and use you.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      Excellent write teaches as always,

      It is funny (not really) that you have written on the topic of ethics, as that is exactly what I do in my job in the city as a paralegal with state government, as we are charged with attempting to keep all public officials and public employees, at the city, county and state levels of government, ethical, by keeping those from using their public position or office for their own personal gain or that of their family member(s) or a business with which they are associated. An arduous task no doubt.

      Your hub speaks to the very core of ethics in all areas of different professions, especially those who are entrusted in leadership roles.

      On my computer screen at work I have the scripture form 1 Chr. 29:17 "I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity."

      Voted Way up, awesome, interesting and useful and I am sharing

      God bless. Happy Thanksgiving!!! In His Love, Faith Reaper

      This is the first hub that I have read here on HP on ethics. So, thank you very much.


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