Why ethical leadership is important


Ethical leadership in its most basic form is about a manager or leader who knows or does what is “right”. But what constitutes an ethical right may differ between and within cultures. Therefore, for leaders working and leading diverse international teams, it can be difficult to get it right.

Learning to be an ethical leader is a key part of the education MBA students receive at Xavier University Williams College of Business. The school’s three MBA programs — full-time, executive, and online — are built on a solid foundation of ethical behavior, aimed at training leaders to achieve results while minimizing negative consequences.

Lynda Kilbourne, president and professor of management and entrepreneurship at Xavier, says the school does this to prepare graduates to lead effectively in any setting.

What is ethical leadership?

According to Lynda, ethical behavior means achieving positive results consistent with typical organizational measures of success, but doing so “within the parameters of the organization’s ethical principles.”

Since leaders typically use multiple criteria to make decisions involving multiple employees, ethical leadership involves weighing the impact of a decision on multiple stakeholders.

“That means we’ll probably have to use a decision rule like ‘minimize cost or loss while maximizing profit or gain,'” Lynda explains.

“We recognize that the most important decisions will not be the best choice for all parties, so we try to do our best. This often means someone will get hurt, especially during a large-scale change.

It teaches MBAs that ethical behavior on the part of the leader equates to ethical considerations and costs for all stakeholders being taken into account before making a decision. Although this may not change the decision that is made, consideration is given to the possible fallout between certain stakeholders within a company.


Why is ethical leadership important?

Ethical leadership in the workplace is important because, without it, the decisions companies and leaders make can have a negative impact on society.

Think of a global oil company that jeopardizes safety procedures in pursuit of profit and then suffers a major oil spill, for example. Or an autocratic leader who makes a one-sided decision about his company’s approach to blitzscaling without considering the impact on staff, then sees widespread burnout and negative mental health consequences spread throughout the company. ‘organization.

An ethical leader ensures that the values ​​defended by a company correspond to the behavior expected and demonstrated by employees.

“Employees do what they are rewarded for or held accountable for, within the systems that managers have in place. If we are strong ethical leaders, we would recognize that we need to look at our employees’ behavior as a product of our systems, not just their own individual motivations,” says Lynda.

“If we encourage sales numbers, we can get people to overturn quota systems or steal customers from each other; if we penalize wasted materials, we can reduce levels of experimentation while trying to get people to be creative; and if we have a system that rewards old behavior, but we ask for creativity, we won’t get creative behavior.

Understanding that as a leader, your actions have consequences beyond you and your organization’s overriding purpose is key to understanding why ethical leadership is important.

“The systems and processes that we as managers put in place to influence the behavior of our employees can actually lead to unintended negative consequences,” says Lynda, “and we need to look for these types of issues in our systems to make sure the systems aren’t causing problems.

“We all have different touchpoints where each of us has the opportunity to influence others, and we need to make sure we influence in a positive rather than a negative way.”


How Ethical Leadership is Taught at Xavier

Lynda explains that in the MBA class, it can be difficult for leaders to recognize that the systems they put in place directly cause the behavior of their employees – it’s something she teaches them to take into account.

“In class, I ask people to think deeply about all the different touchpoints where each of us might have the opportunity to influence others in a negative or positive way,” she says.

Leslie Green, Chief Compliance Officer at Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP, holds an MBA from Xavier University Williams College of Business and uses the ethical leadership skills she learned at school in her current role. She supports investment advisor and broker-dealer clients in the development, administration and governance of all compliance and risk management practices.

Xavier’s MBA programs train students to work and learn collaboratively, equipping them with the leadership skills needed to foster positive growth within diverse teams.

“At Xavier, you’re part of groups of people in radically different industries,” recalls Leslie. “A lot of people try to take a leadership role, so you have a lot of strong personalities. It really forces you to have conversations with people to effect positive change and complete your course successfully. »

The school also invites guest speakers to give lectures on leadership and management. Lynda has previously invited Cintas Corporation CEO and President (retired), Bob Kohlhepp; CEO of GE Aviation and Vice President of GE (retired), David Joyce; senior vice president of HR and diversity and inclusion, Cintas Corporation, Max Langenkamp; entrepreneur and Military Channel founder Doug Keeney; and CEO of Centrifuse, Pete Blackshaw.


“Xavier has so many connections, especially locally,” says Leslie. “There are huge global companies operating in Cincinnati – Procter & Gamble, Great American Insurance Group, Western & Southern Financial Group – and all of these people have come here and [talked to us about] their culture and leadership styles, and that was invaluable.

Ethical leadership and values-based leadership overlap closely at Xavier. There is a business law and ethics module in every MBA program, and Leslie chose to pursue the school’s MBA concentration in values-based leadership.

Concentration students choose three courses from Leadership and Ethics, Spirituality and Leadership, Business Ethics through Film, and Workforce Diversity, Ethics and Leadership. There is also an option to study Doing Business in Europe: International Ethics, which includes a trip to London and Paris.

Students wishing to specialize can also pursue MBA concentrations in several other disciplines, including Business Intelligence; Innovation, change and entrepreneurship; and supply chain management.

There is also the option to take the Capstone module in Corporate Governance, which puts students in the shoes of real leaders working to solve a real problem for a local client.

It all sums up what Lynda says is an approach to education that prepares the next generation of MBA business leaders to lead effectively in all scenarios.

“We help students develop their ability to see and listen,” she concludes, “we develop leaders who can choose the appropriate leadership approach for each specific situation they face, all underpinned by a grip sound decision-making based on data and a foundation of ethical behavior and direction.

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