In This Article Ethical Leadership

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works

Management Ethical Leadership
John Schaubroeck, Zachary W. Woessner, Bernie Malonson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0038


Since the start of the 21st century ethical leadership has become a topic of scientific inquiry, with established measures and a corpus of research and theoretical work examining antecedents and consequences. During the same period the unethical acts of organizational leaders have received a great deal of attention, and not surprisingly a practitioner literature has emerged that presents observations of events and proposes solutions to the problem of unethical behavior among leaders. This bibliography does not seek to review that literature about the unethical behavior of leaders. Rather it focuses on the psychological construct of ethical leadership.

Introductory Works

What exactly are the obligations of leadership? Many observers of organizations believe that leaders are obliged only to act within legal and contractual restraints, nothing more (Brown 2007). This perspective leaves out the importance that ethics and morality play in the role of the leader as one who provides for the needs of their followers. Concerns about ethical leadership span not only time but cultures as well. The study of ethics and leadership appears to be a universal concern dating back to Antiquity. In the Western world the study of ethics dates back centuries to the philosophers of ancient Greece such as Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates—and to the European Renaissance and political philosophers such as Niccolò Machiavelli. The East has maintained its own separate traditions of ethics and leadership based on the philosophical traditions of Confucius, Sun Tzu, and others. Despite their differences, most cultures have been found to have similar understandings of various aspects of ethical leadership such as character, integrity, collective motivation, and encouragement (Resick, et al. 2006). In its more modern incarnations the study of ethical leadership has moved from the realm of philosophers to the domain of social science. Social scientists have seen ethical leadership as a complement to related constructs such as character (Wright 2011). They have examined it from both managerial (Enderle 1987) and psychological (Treviño, et al. 2000) perspectives. To our knowledge, Treviño, et al. 2000 was the first to make reference to a psychological construct of ethical leadership. The modern period of more popular interest in the relationship between leadership and ethics, or more specifically in the unethical behaviors of leaders, seems to have commenced after the Enron fiasco, which came to light in October 2001. Good topical overviews and introductions to the literature and scholarship can be found in Ciulla 2004 and Miller and Poole 2011. Miller and Poole 2011 discusses the challenges of ethical leadership in a global context with scholarly contributions from around the world, which provides insights into the differing perspectives of ethical leadership from across the globe.

  • Brown, M. E. “Misconceptions of Ethical Leadership: How to Avoid Potential Pitfalls.” Organizational Dynamics 36.2 (2007): 140–155.

    E-mail Citation »

    The author draws from the popular business press to identify and provide examples of what he sees as five popular misconceptions that leaders may hold regarding ethical practices in their leadership styles.

  • Ciulla, Joanne B. Ethics, The Heart of Leadership. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2004.

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    This series of essays focuses on three very general facets of ethics and leadership: the ethics of the means, of the person, and of the ends—and the interplay of these three facets.

  • Enderle, G. “Some Perspectives of Managerial Ethical Leadership.” Journal of Business Ethics 6.8 (November 1987): 657–663.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00705782E-mail Citation »

    The author discusses several aspects of ethical leadership, including the specific tasks associated with being an ethical leader and being responsible for the effect of one’s decisions on the people while seeking to implement corporate goals.

  • Miller, C., and E. Poole. Ethical Leadership: Global Challenges and Perspectives. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

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    Provides analysis, examples, and ideas about the ethical leadership dilemmas of day-to-day international business life in all their complexity, providing a range of angles and options.

  • Resick, C. J., P. J. Hanges, M. W. Dickson, and J. K. Mitchelson. “A Cross-Cultural Examination of the Endorsement of Ethical Leadership.” Journal of Business Ethics 63.4 (February 2006): 345–359.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-005-3242-1E-mail Citation »

    Examines the extent to which employees in many different countries evaluated ethical leadership dimensions as being important to effective leadership. The dimensions were character/integrity, altruism, collective motivation, and encouragement. They concluded that the dimensions of ethical leadership have similar meaning in different societies and also that ethical leadership in general is universally endorsed. However, they also note that the level of endorsement for particular dimensions varies across cultures.

  • Treviño, L. K., L. P. Hartman, and M. Brown. “Moral Person and Moral Manager: How Executives Develop a Reputation for Ethical Leadership.” California Management Review 42.4 (Summer 2000): 128–142.

    DOI: 10.2307/41166057E-mail Citation »

    Interviews executives and discovers that ethical leadership reputation is based on the executive’s visibility as both a moral person and as a moral manager. The authors argue that developing a reputation for ethical leadership reduces legal problems, increases employee commitment, satisfaction, and ethical conduct.

  • Wright, T. A., and J. C. Quick. “The Role of Character in Ethical Leadership Research.” Leadership Quarterly 22.5 (October 2011): 975–978.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2011.07.015E-mail Citation »

    The authors provide a historical overview of the character literature and a working definition of character and character-based leadership. The authors also make suggestions for those scholars interested in investigating and examining the role of character-based leadership in their teaching and research.

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