What is ethical leadership and why does it matter?

By Caroline Wynn, 22 October 2021

As part of our Organisational Development (OD) series focusing on ‘What next for leadership’ our first session asked: Does ethical leadership really matter? In this blog, Caroline Wynn, one of our speakers on the night, explains what ethical leadership is and why it matters. 

What is ethical leadership? 

Interest in ethical leadership has risen significantly over the last 20 years. Previously, it might just have been about following rules and being true to your values. Nowadays, though, it can be a massive differentiator for investors, customers, employees, potential recruits and other stakeholders. 

Max H Bazerman, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard, suggests that ethical leaders ‘ask what will do the most good rather than what will do the most good for a small group that happens to be connected to us.’ 

Photo of Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger 

Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (who glided an Airbus A320 into the Hudson River just after takeoff from LaGuardia airport in New York City) favours a convenient acronym: ETHICS highlighting the qualities that describe an ethical leader as:

  • Empathy
  • Trustworthiness
  • Humility
  • Inquisitiveness
  • Courage
  • Self-discipline

During our live session, we asked our participants what ‘ethical’ means to them. From the resulting word cloud, we saw that the most common words chimed with other polls we have undertaken, but we also saw a vast range in responses. Honesty, integrity, fairness, trustworthiness and doing the right thing are generally the most frequent responses to this question. The challenge is how to turn this into day-to-day behaviour, which results in an ethical culture. 

Wordcloud: What does ‘ethical’ mean to you?

Why does being ethical matter? 

What we know is that ethical leadership is highly relevant for Chief Executives and their Boards. In 2018, PWC’s CEO Success Study found that more CEOs were dismissed for ethical lapses for the first time, than for financial performance or board struggles. A year later, Korn Ferry’s survey of 163 CEOs in Europe, revealed that 94 per cent said the CEO role will have ‘a greater emphasis on moral/ethical leadership by 2025’. 

In our next blog, we’ll delve into some of the themes that arose during our session and share some practical tips on how you might make a difference in how ethical leadership shows up in your organisation, your networks and the broader systems in which you work.  

Resources and thoughts

If you’d like to watch the playback, we’ve included the recording below and we’ve also linked the accompanying slide deck. We’ve also included the sketchnote you’ll have seen taking form throughout the session.

We would love you to leave your comments, questions or ideas for other topics or areas of practice in the comments. 

Sketchnote by Rachel Burnham
Branch Chair, CIPD Manchester

Next Session: How to lead change at pace WITH your people

The second event in our What’s next for leadership series focuses on change. How to lead change at pace with your people introduces you to a revolutionary new model for leading change built on positive psychology, which aims to help your people welcome change and become resourceful and responsive during the process. Our speakers on the evening are Dave Harrison and Rebecca Stevens from Co-Creation. Join us on 25 November from 17:00-18:30.

About the author

Caroline is an experienced coach and facilitator and an expert in leadership behaviour. She is passionate about helping leaders and their teams to do well by doing good. She is a creative thinker with an ability to challenge established patterns of behaviour in a constructive way. 

She has experience across the private, public and not for profit sectors, with organisations such as The British Council, Arriva, P&O, The International Baccalaureate, AXA, DAS and TLT. She has a degree in politics, an MBA, is a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and is an Associate Member of the CIPD. She is qualified to use a range of psychometric tools. She is currently undertaking a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) at the University of the West of England (UWE) exploring the practice of ethical leadership.

Warm and empathetic, she is quickly able to build rapport and support individuals and teams to achieve their potential. Caroline has a proven track record of sensitively handling complex behavioural issues to deliver improved results. 

Caroline Wynn speakers for CIPD Manchester Branch on Ethical Leadership
Caroline Wynn
Business Detectives Ltd

Watch the session playback

Location Manchester, England E-mail manchester@cipdbranch.co.uk Hours Our hours vary according to our programme.
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