How Is Ethical Leadership a Strategic Advantage?


By Linda Fisher Thornton

The Human Factor (India) asked me about ethical leadership trends from 2012 and predictions for 2013 for its January Issue on HR and Business Trends 2013. The article includes observations about:

  • How ethical leadership is evolving
  • Why we need to aim higher than simply obeying laws
  • How ethical leadership helps businesses compete, and
  • Three important areas of focus in ethical leadership for 2013

The Future of Ethical Leadership

“The future of ethical leadership involves a high degree of ethical awareness and ethical competence that is intentionally managed by business leaders. It involves considering a broader definition of ‘stakeholders,’ a desire to give back and contribute to the greater good, and a lower tolerance for harm to people and the planet. ”

Linda Fisher Thornton, It’s Time to Practice Ethical LeadershipJanuary 2013 Issue, The Human Factor (pages 50-51)

The full article (page 50) includes predictions and practical recommendations for areas of focus in 2013.

How is Ethical Leadership a Strategic Advantage?

Businesses that are proactive and that make ethical leadership a priority will benefit in many ways. Here are three of the many ways that ethical leadership helps us compete:

  • Ethical consumerism is growing. Consumers increasingly expect businesses to think beyond their own gain and to demonstrate concern and care for a broad array of stakeholders. Businesses that show concern earn the loyalty of increasingly savvy consumers who want to support ethical companies.
  • Ethical leadership and high-trust cultures bring out the best performance people have to offer, and bringing out people’s best performance will help our businesses compete effectively in today’s global marketplace.
  • Having strong ethical leadership and a high-trust culture will help us attract and retain the best talent. The capable and ethical people that we attract when we lead ethically will delight our customers, help us get more done, and improve our brand.

Welcome to the era where ethical leadership is a strategic advantage.

For further reading, also see What is Conscious Capitalism and The Leadership Development Advantage.


For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 



  1. That sounds like an invaluable audit. Unitended consequencse tends to be a hard area to tackle, as it requires foreseeing all possible problems. I look forward to hearing more about your project.


  2. Thanks for your comments, Chip. I appreciate the feedback. Responding to your question – Each company may have a different point of tension that is impacting ethics. In some cases, senior leaders are not effectively modeling ethical leadership – they may not be staying current as times change, they may not be using ethical thinking or behavior or they may not be considering the unintended consequences of their actions. In other cases, the company may have failed to set and communicate ethical expectations. I’m currently working on a company-level ethical leadership audit that is designed to help companies identify where they need to improve.


  3. Linda,

    Your writing is incredibly effective and I love the topics you pick. It is about doing what is “right” to many people, but yes, for those that don’t inherently feel this way, a strategic gain is a great way to navigate them onto the right path. What do you feel is a great first step for improving a companies ethical leadership?


  4. Tim,
    Your point about the post’s title is well taken. While it was a risk, I actually wrote the title that way intentionally so that it would reach those leaders who may not have yet embraced the inherent good in ethical leadership (and may need a nudge). Thanks so much for your comment and for confirming that strategic benefits are really a side-effect of simply doing what is “right” in leadership.


  5. Linda, thanks for the article. Although the topic is important, the title bothers me – it implies ethical behavior may be taken as a decision to do or not based on business strategy. In my view, there is no decision – its a given. There is no maybe. In my mind those who make the decision based on business strategy may have missed the point all together – and I would not trust them or want my kids working for them. Sorry to sound so cut and dry about it. Just my humble opinion.


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