Ethical leaders

Ethics in schools require teachers to abide by rules, beliefs and values. Picture: SUPPLIED

IN a contemporary world, ethics are of paramount concern in order to maintain a society’s values and morals.

This article discusses ethics in an educational institution, ethical leadership, unethical leadership and its implication.

Ethics in educational institutions

Northouse’s Leadership: Theory and practice (2013) says the word “ethics” has its roots in the Greek word ethos, which translates to customs, conduct and character.

Ethics in schools requires teachers to abide by rules, beliefs and values.

Because of globalisation, the school principal attempts to cope with a turbulent environment. It is his responsibility as the ethical leader to provide quality services and learning opportunities within an ethical framework. They are to create learning communities within their contexts with due regard for ethical principles. Ethical leaders need to mentor common values regularly, facilitating learning, supervise staff members and students to act ethically, honest and admirable, helping others to acquire trust and necessary skills and also give priority to individuals with a high ethical insight. Because of external and internal pressures in school, it becomes paramount for a principal to act ethically with different stakeholders and create a conducive working environment. An ethical leader’s prime aim is to take morally right decision and need to be trustworthy who can differentiate between right or wrong. If leaders in schools act ethically, teachers will be more committed towards the school progress. Ethical leadership is the process where leaders bring ethical principles such as honesty, justice, respect, responsibility and loyalty into practice at work to enable the educational institution to develop an identity and respect in society. Principals should be aware of issues ie gender discrimination, cultural differences, religious problems, language instruction and testing standards. They need to take all challenges, take the blame but share the success. This includes discovering oneself as a person to be a leader.

What is ethical leadership?

Ethics of leadership relates to the leader’s character, actions and behaviour. Basic ethical principles includes freedom, responsibility, duty, justice, equity, authority, caring, character, commitment, conflict of interest, formality, loyalty and prudence. Northouse (2013) explained ethical leaders respect others , service to others , justice for others , honesty toward others , and building community with others. In the similar vein, Heres and Lasthuizen’ Ethical Leadership: A Variform Universal Phenomenon (2010) describes ethical leadership to comprise both the quality of leaders to consistently make decisions and act in accordance with relevant moral values, norms, rules, and obligations as well as their ability to cultivate such decision-making and behaviour among followers. Ethical leadership is presumed to be based on three fundamental pillars such as “integrity of a leader/moral person” that consist of  moral qualities include honesty, integrity, reliability, modesty, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, respect and fairness. This comes with an obligation over ethical leader to be authentic and have high level of self-awareness. In addition, “ethical leader should have a genuine interest in others’ wellbeing, the fundamental and enduring needs of followers and broader common good and should be committed to a higher purpose and embrace altruistic values” (Heres and Lasthuizen, 2010). Other qualities of an ethical leader identified by researchers are to be caring, people-oriented, communicative, having vision, leader’ decision-making and behaviour, capable of judging ambiguous ethical issues; aware of the different needs of stakeholders by the decision of ethical leader, should seek input and organise feedback from others; should remain consistent with their decision making and behaviour. Secondly, ethical leadership should cultivate high quality leader-follower relationship, that ‘includes leaders’ ethical decision and behaviour includes leaders decision and behaviour towards followers; thus leaders’ personal integrity and ethical behaviour help them to get trust, credibility, confidence and loyalty from the followers in order to establish and organise norms for integrity. Therefore, leader should instil the same trust, loyalty and support in their followers. This relationship is enhanced by ethical leaders who encourage and empower their followers” (Heres and Lasthuizen, 2010). Thirdly, ethical leader to be a “moral manager” or being a role model through visible action, reinforcement and communication about ethics and values. It reflects the psychology that if leaders do not practise what they preach, why should followers do so? Ethical leaders should know how their decisions and behaviour might be interpreted by the followers and should not conduct any decision which is against moral norms, values and rules, also justify the reasons behind their actions and decision if one require. Moral manager should imply ethical standards through reward and discipline/punishment; one should have two-way communication about both the positive and negative aspects of ethics and integrity that  highlight the ethical dimension of decisions, tasks, and situations, clarifying norms and role expectations, and provide guidance on the appropriate course of action. Lastly ethical leaders communicate their ethics message by making their own decision-making processes transparent to followers (Heres and Lasthuizen, 2010). So, one has to lead by example, create a positive environment and help to develop others.

Unethical leadership

Unethical leader is based on placing themself first, image manipulation, stand for nothing, architects of their own demise, disappointing displays of ignorance, irresponsibility and insensitivity. They derail their careers though abandoning their integrity. The reasons for the disappointing record of the leader are “flawed sense of role – a condition of empty vision; contempt for ideas – a condition of empty mind; neglect of constructive values – a condition of empty heart; retreat from several ideals – a condition of empty spirit; violation of cultural norms- a condition of empty sensitivity; sacrifice of honour- a condition of empty character.” (Bogue retrieved from Duignan & Bhindi, 1997)


We conclude by defining the working application of ethical leadership as a relationship between the ethical leader and follower is based on ethics of leader showing concern about others’ needs, treating others with equality and having caring attitude towards followers. Northouse explained the working of ethical leadership: if you entrench the following questions by the leader to oneself as, Is this the right and fair thing to do? Is this what a good person would do?, Am I respectful of others?, Do I treat others generously?, Am I honest and faithful toward others? Am I serving the community? Therefore leader-follower relationship is the crux of ethical leadership. Thus, ethical leadership is based on serving, sharing, caring and learning and facilitating learning.

  •  Dr Sakul Kundra is an assistant professor in history at FNU. Bhawna Kundra is MYP acting co-ordinator at ISN. The views expressed are theirs and not of this newspaper or their respective employers. For comments orsuggestions, email.

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