What Does Ethics Have to do with Leadership?

Journal of Business Ethics 124 (2):225-242 (2014)
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Abstract

Accounts of leadership in relation to ethics can and do go wrong in several ways that may lead us too quickly into thinking there is a tighter relationship between ethics and leadership than we have reason to believe. Firstly, these accounts can be misled by the centrality of values talk in recent discussions of leadership into thinking that values of a particular kind are sufficient for leadership. Secondly, the focus on character in recent leadership accounts can lead to a similar error. The assumption here is that because good character is often a locus of descriptions of leaders, such character is necessary and sufficient for leadership. Thirdly, we can fall victim to an observer bias that colors our accounts of the leaders we admire and thus wish to either have or be, which in turn leads to the fourth way in which accounts of leadership can go wrong in their description of the role of ethics in leadership. Through inattention or through wishful thinking accounts of leadership can become merely prescriptive and stipulate that ethics is requisite and at least partly constitutive of leadership. Keeping in mind these ways in which accounts of leadership commonly go astray, we can say that any adequate account of leadership must, at least in the first instance, be able to differentiate not only between leadership and good ethical character, but also between leadership and power, authority, influence, managerial ability, and charisma. Taking a closer look at some of the ways that the relation between leadership and ethics is misconstrued is necessary to better understanding both leadership and its connection to ethics. It is, however, just a first step. Asking whether we have reason to think of leadership as an Aristotelian virtue should, we think, enable us to give a more accurate and useful account of the complexity of the relation. It also captures underlying reasons for wanting to see the two as intrinsically connected.

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Author Profiles

Michael P. Levine
University of Western Australia
Jacqueline Boaks
Curtin University, Western Australia

References found in this work

On Virtue Ethics.Rosalind Hursthouse - 1999 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The Open Society and Its Enemies.K. R. Popper - 1946 - Philosophy 21 (80):271-276.
Virtue Theory and Abortion.Rosalind Hursthouse - 1991 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 20 (3):223-246.

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