Ethical Leadership and Influence

This section provides background on the development of the ethical leadership construct and provides a cross-cultural definition of ethical leadership. It highlights two aspects important to leadership influence: a social learning perspective and modelling ethical, normatively appropriate behaviour. Role modelling is highlighted as both an element of ethical leadership as well as an antecedent of becoming an ethical leader. Ethical modelling is shown to be one of the most important elements of ethical leadership.

Ethical Leadership

There are various constructs of ethical leadership in the literature. Brown, Trevino et al.8 played a foundational role in the conceptualization of ethical leadership and devised the widely utilized Ethical Leadership Scale (ELS). Brown, Trevino et al.9 define ethical leadership as “the demonstration of normatively appropriate conduct through personal actions and interpersonal relationships, and the promotion of such conduct to followers through two-way communication, reinforcement, and decisionmaking”. This conceptualization follows the social learning perspective advocated by Trevino, Brown and Hartman.10

The Brown, Trevino et al. conceptualization of ethical leadership was US-based. Since that foundation was set, perspectives across cultures have emerged which generally align with Brown, Trevino et al.’s. 1 1 Resick, Hanges et al.,12 using the GLOBE study data (which included data from six African countries), demonstrate global endorsement of key ethical leadership elements such as character and integrity (dimensions: trusted, just, sincere and honest). Two qualitative studies on ethical leadership, Resick, Martin, et al.13 and Frisch and Huppenbauer14 provide themes on non-US perspectives. Resick, Martin, et al. identified 10 themes based on data including Asian and European subjects and provide results consistent with the Brown, Trevino et al.’s15 ethical person and ethical manager pillars. The Resick, Martin, et al. results are consistent with a narrow perspective on Brown, Trevino, et al., a perspective advocated by Yukl et al.16 Frisch and Huppenbauer’s17 qualitative study was based on interviews with European leaders (primarily Swiss). This study also supports the Brown, Trevino, et al. model, although it found support for broader European conceptualizations. This indicates that although there is universal support for ethical leadership, there are aspects included in some ethical leadership constructs that are not relevant across all cultures. (It should be noted that although Resick, Hanges et al. 1 8 used African data to demonstrate endorsement of ethical leadership, no conceptualization of ethical leadership identified has included any African data.)

Rose19 provides the definition of ethical leadership shown below based on these cross-cultural considerations:

Ethical leadership is defined as modeling ethical normatively appropriate behavior (exemplified by demonstrating integrity, consideration of others, and ethical decision making) and the promotion and reinforcement of such behavior.

This definition is also based on the narrow interpretation of Brown, Trevino, et al.20 advocated by Yukl et al.21 (See Rose22 for a broader explanation of this definition relative to alternative perspectives.) Regarding leadership influence, two aspects of this ethical leadership definition are noteworthy: the social learning foundational perspective and the first aspect (or pillar) of the definition, modelling ethical normatively appropriate behaviour.

 
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