What is moral leadership and ethics?
Moral leadership moves beyond a leader’s basic call of ensuring the performance of tasks. It seeks to define the ‘how’ of the process. Moral and ethical leadership is the expectation of a leader to offer direction to all followers regarding the acceptable conduct within the group when judged against a set of values.
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The moral code is a set of agreed-upon standards by the group. In the workplace, there is a need to define and enforce a moral code because the workplace is an amalgam of values and viewpoints, which if unchecked, would be the source of numerous interpersonal conflicts that will lower productivity. Sucher (2008) reported that “even smart, well-intentioned, articulate individuals can differ from each other” (p. 7). Morals and ethics generally rest on a set of commonly held values drawn from various sources.
How does moral leadership relate to a manager’s job?
Rhode (2006) said, “Leadership is inescapably value-laden” (p. 6). The three key reasons why it is a manager’s job to provide moral leadership are that moral issues require an example. Secondly, they require policing and enforcement and finally, they can greatly interfere with work output by causing strife among various members of a team if unchecked.
- Providing example: The chief role of a manager is to provide an example to the subordinates and to require from them a certain level of work performance consistent with their contracts. The role of moral leadership therefore falls best within the docket of the manager to show the rest of the team how to relate with each other in a morally acceptable way within the organization. It is their role to ensure the development and implementation of the organization’s moral code.
- Enforcement as a management function: It is the manager’s role to enforce discipline in an organization. His/her primary role relates to work performance. However, there are some issues relating to the moral and ethical conduct of the employees that the manager must be involved with since they influence the workplace atmosphere, and subsequently productivity. This establishes managers as the enforcement arm of the moral and ethical code of the organization.
- Disastrous consequences: The moral atmosphere of the organization impinges on the degree of freedom employees have in the execution of their duties. These issues influence the social conduct of employees, which in turn influences the nature, and strength of working relationships the employees form. Working relationships are critical for efficient organizational performance and they, therefore, require protection through a code of ethics.
Moral Leadership and Ethical Issues in Leadership
There are a number of issues forming the moral climate of an organization. They range from personal issues to community relations. They may be sexual or financial in nature, or questions of personal integrity and faith. In the recent past, the natural environment has become a significant cause of moral questions. Many people consider it immoral for an organization to pollute the environment irresponsibly. In addition, communities expect the organization to be involved in the community’s life by using some of their profits to meet some community needs.
There are three dimensions to moral leadership. There is a personal level, the organizational level, and the societal level.
- Personal level: In the personal dimension of moral leadership, a manager’s role is to ensure that accepted moral standards guide their personal interaction with everyone in the organization. This means that the manager does not violate the generally accepted moral standards in the organization. For instance, if the organization has a strict no smoking policy, the manager should be not be found smoking even in the privacy of their offices. Breaching the generally accepted standards even when it does not affect anyone else robs a manager of their moral authority and can reduce their effectiveness.
- Organizational level: Within the organization, the entire workplace must adhere to the predefined code of conduct because failure to do so makes people vulnerable and reduces their productivity. Moral leadership at the organization level requires synergy among the entire management team to provide a morally coherent atmosphere for all the employees. This means that the organization handles all employees in morally justifiable ways and consequently affords them a safe and stable working environment.
- Community-level: At societal level, the decisions made by the organizations’ management that affect the immediate community communicate sensitivity to the needs of the community and not organizational greed.
Consequences of a Weak Moral Climate
When an organization has poor enforcement of moral issues, the organization faces many problems. They include a lack of organizational consistency, reduced work productivity, high employee turnover, acrimonious relations with stakeholders and regulators, and risk of eventual collapse.
- Organizational inconsistency: When an organization lacks a consistent internal environment, employees feel uneasy and insecure as they undertake their duties. It creates blockages in work relations and erodes confidence among different employees. This situation reduces organizational efficiency.
- Reduced productivity: An inconsistent moral climate results in reduced productivity. When employees see no moral imperative in issues such as observing company time and caring for organizational resources, the result is wastage, and with it, increased inventory costs. The result is an inefficient loss-making organization that does not meet its targets.
- Employee turnover: High employee turnover is also a possible result of a weak moral climate. Everyone wants to work in an environment where they feel secure, protected from exploitation, and cared for. Whenever an organization does not uphold these values, the employees will seek places that can offer them a better moral climate.
- Acrimonious stakeholders: In addition, the company will have to deal with acrimonious stakeholders if it does not promote a consistent moral climate. Complaints arising out of poor moral choices by the company towards its employees and the wider public will cause this. These factors can lead to the eventual collapse of an organization.
Attaining Moral and Ethical Leadership
Learn the code
The first step for every manager to take in moral and ethical leadership in an organization is to learn the code. The code of conduct varies from organization to organization. Their basis lies in the compassionate and considerate treatment of other persons. Lennick and Kiel (2007) advised, “We have to be more aware both of our values and how we value” (p. xxv). The first step towards taking moral and ethical leadership is exploring the moral climate of the organization to determine the values upheld, practiced, and why are they in place.
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Practice the code
Practicing the code is the next key step in establishing moral and ethical leadership in the organization. It is upon the manager to do his/her best to fulfill the requirements of the organization’s code of ethics. This involves impeccable conduct in general issues such as time and financial management. It also calls for the careful practice of the more personal issues such as the expression of sexual attitudes and interpersonal conduct. The manager sets the tone for the department in as far the moral and ethical leadership is concerned. Nothing beats the power of example. When this happens across the entire organization, the moral climate of the entire system is firmly established.
Teach the code
The third step in attaining moral and ethical leadership in an organization by a manager is teaching the code. This involves incessant education of all subordinates on the requirements and benefits of the prescribed code and the consequences of non- conformance. This makes enforcement much easier wherever there is laxity since everyone is well aware of the moral requirement the organization places on him or her in the execution of his or her duties.
Enforce the code
To ensure that the organization attains and remains firmly in the ideal moral climate, it is important to ensure that there is strict enforcement of the moral code. This means that those who go against the agreed norms of the organization’s ethical code receive punishment in visible ways so that it is clear to the entire organization that there are real consequences for failing to stick with the code. It is important to communicate clearly these consequences to everyone. Daft (2007) said, “Being a real leader means learning who you are and what you stand for, and then having the courage to act” (p. 163).
Daft, R. L. (2007). The leadership experience. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.
Lennick, D. & Kiel, F. (2007). Moral intelligence: Enhancing business performance and leadership success. New Jersey: Wharton School Publishing.
Rhode, D. L. (2006). Moral leadership: The theory and practice of power, judgment, and policy. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons.
Sucher, S. J. (2008). The moral leader: Challenges, insight, and tools. New York: Routledge.