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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Toward a Theory of Ethical Leadership: Beyond the Ideologies

Constructing an accurate ethical-leadership concept that is not over-extended by one’s ideological agenda ought to begin with defining leadership itself. That is to say, more attention should be paid to thinking about what leadership is. Beyond its attributes and any contextual artifacts, leadership itself must be identified as a distinct phenomenon before we can go on to highlight the ethical dimension that completes “ethical leadership.” Then what counts as the ethical dimension of leadership can be clipped back to that which is implied in the definition of leadership, which in turn is entailed in the essence of the phenomenon.
                                                            Often overlooked, what is leadership?    Image Source: Gaebler.com
How we characterize the ethical dimension depends in large part on how we define leadership. For example, if leadership is defined as making sense of actual and desired social happenings, then ethical leadership is the obligation to satisfy followers’ need for meaning. On the other hand, if leadership is defined as distinguishing and favoring a desired value relative to actual values, ethical leadership is the obligation to instill the desired value in others. In his text, Leadership, James M. Burns claims that transformational (as distinct from transactional) leadership is geared to the followers’ development.[1] While doubtlessly salubrious, such an accretion is dogmatic, or arbitrary, if we are to base the ethical dimension of leadership on our definition of leadership itself. I suspect that the arbitrariness here comes from the scholar’s own values, which he intentionally or unintentionally “slips in” or superimposes as being necessary to ethical leadership itself. The first step, therefore, is to both make transparent and expunge the layers of ideological accretions that have obscured the study and practice of ethical leadership.

To read the entire essay, please go to: "Toward a Theory of Ethical Leadership"

To read another essay based on the same thesis, go to "Shaking the Ideological Debris from Ethical Leadership"


1. James MacGregor Burns, Leadership (New York: Harper & Row, 1975).