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What is Leadership Ethics?

Formal leadership responsibilities include creating an ethical organizational culture, a broader view of stakeholder interests, changing ownership structures, and addressing the paradox of millennial values. Ann Skeet, director of Leadership Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, defines the field.

Ann Skeet

Ethical leadership means both acting ethically and setting the standard for others to do so as well. Leaders have an opportunity to inspire others not only to do the right thing but also to consider the kind of people they want to be.

Leadership is both a formal role individuals have in organizations and an activity individuals undertake in various aspects of their life as professionals, citizens, parents, and volunteers, for example.

We explore issues of institutional and personal leadership at the Ethics Center, with a leadership focus in business ethics, nonprofit ethics, and government ethics. Business ethics involves the study of moral right and wrong, concentrating on issues in for-profit companies and the newer B corporations some U.S. states have adopted. Nonprofit ethics considers these issues in nonprofit institutions that have responsibilities to the stewardship of mission and public benefit goals, and the complexities introduced by relying on volunteers and donated funds, introducing additional ethical considerations. Government ethics looks at the responsibilities of elected and appointed officials for conducting the public's business with transparency and fairness.

We consider the activities of individuals serving organizations formally as operational or governing leaders and also of people demonstrating leadership in everyday life, regardless of formal positions they hold. Some activities leaders engage in to set standards that encourage ethical behavior include

  • creating clear boundaries
  • guiding policy development
  • asking the right questions
  • reframing issues to bring forward ethical considerations
  • creating systems designed to motivate ethical action
  • taking responsibility for creating ethical cultures in organizations
Sep 1, 2014