Elements of Ethical Leadership Development

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Ethical Leadership Development?

Ethical leadership development is the ongoing process of guiding leaders to become ethical people and ethical leaders. It is not the same thing as compliance training or following legal requirements, although those are also important. This is the human development that happens over time to bring leaders to the point of being able to handle what the world throws at them using ethical thinking and action. The way we develop leaders impacts their growth and readiness to make successful and ethical choices when faced with challenging situations.

“The moral reasoning level has been positively related to ethical leadership (Brown & Trevino, 2006), showing that development opportunities that increase moral reasoning abilities improve ethical leadership capabilities.”

Shannon Brown, Ph.D. and Michael Chikeleze, Ph.D., A New Conceptual Model: Integrating Ethical Leadership into the Assess, Challenge and Support (ACS) Model of Leader Development, Journal of Leadership Education

To be most effective, ethical leader development should include these high-level connected elements: ethical awareness, ethical (global) mindset, ethical thinking and decision making, ethical interpersonal behavior, and applying ethics to daily leadership choices. For leaders to grow into ethical people and leaders, they will need an understanding of all of these important elements:

Ethical Self

Ethical Awareness

Global Mindset

Ethical Thinking And Decision Making

Ethics And Others

Ethical Interpersonal Behavior

Ethical Leadership

Ethics, Society, And The Planet

Building Healthy Communities

Respecting And Caring For The Planet

Ethical Organization

Managing For Ethical Performance

Ethical Culture Building

Plugging Gaps in Leadership Development

Preparing leaders in all of these ethical leadership dimensions prevents many problems before they even arise. Plugging existing gaps in leader development does require up-front effort, but the payoff is greater than just preventing ethical failures. Leaders also find meaning and satisfaction in their leadership role when they understand the bigger picture of its impact on the organization, its stakeholders, and society.

Use these questions to determine your next steps as an organization:

  1. How broad is the scope of our current ethical leadership development?
  2. Which elements on the list above are currently missing or out of date?
  3. What should be our highest priority in the next 6 months for improving ethical leadership development?
  4. How will taking this high priority action benefit the organization?
  5. What are the first three things we need to do right now to get started?

All of these elements of ethical leadership development are addressed in 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership. A free book Discussion Guide is here. Supplemental resources: ethical culture building.

Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership


© 2009-2023 Leading in Context LLC

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