U01 A Leader’s Ethical Task

What are the ground rules for leaders in the work place? 

Work environments differ from one job to the next. Some companies enforce a strict dress code, other allow more casual styles of dress. But are these standard and or norms set by the company’s employees or the leaders? It is true however that a company’s culture is made up by the people who work there. The majority of these individuals happen to be lower level employees. But it is my belief that a company culture is set forth by the leaders who lower level employees adhere to.  

In setting the company culture, leaders have an ethical obligation to create a positive and productive work environment for their employees. But let’s step back for a moment and describe exactly what ethics are. Ethics are concerned with the values and morals an individual or society find appropriate Northouse, 2015 p.330).  One’s morals and value shape their behavior. Behavior as we know is a learned trait, and is also a product of one’s environment. In simpler terms leader A has their own set of values and beliefs that influence their behavior, then they bestow these same practices to their subordinates. This trickledown effect, creates a standard of operating and the more and more people adhere to these behaviors, the more it becomes a part of company culture. 

We can also look at this scenario as influence. Leaders have an inherent amount of influence over their subordinates, therefor, they have an ethical obligation to create a work culture that promotes a positive work environment. In this way employees are satisfied within their job and productivity stays high. Ethical leadership is a term that comes to mind and it revolves around a leader’s decisions that get enacted in a given organization. For the purposes of this article we will be discussing day to day interaction between coworkers and upper level managers. From the readings and lectures students understand that leadership is a process that involves interactive events that occur between leaders and followers. These interactions over time shape the culture of that company. I have worked in company cultures, where the norm would be to gossip behind other employees backs. As a new employee I often refrained from participating in such behavior. I was disgruntled and a little confused as to why everyone in the company found this behavior okay. I later learned that upper level managers were participating in the same behavior and it made me angry. One day I asked my direct supervisor to have a meeting with her and I explained to her that i was upset that i discovered some gossip was shared about me from her directly. She immediately denied the situation ever occurring and tried to assure me that company policy would never allow her to do so but she and I both knew that it was in fact her that began these awful rumors. 

Unethical leadership occurs when a leader’s personal ethical codes do not coincide with that of the company. When that occurs, it is often difficult for an employee to separate personal ethics from organizational ethics. That is why to the other employees working at my office, it was so easy for them to participate in this behavior. The other employees began thinking it was okay, because our supervisor made them feel as though this behavior was correct. Their behavior was also justifiable because their boss was doing it. Not only is a leader a point of influence, they are also looked upon for their morality. Morality has to do with what is wrong or right as well as how an individual’s actions fit into their social norms. These also have to do with professional codes of conduct, which should in fact be curated in a company’s handbook. According to Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral “people progress through various stages from less complex to more complex as they age, learn, and gain experience” (Northouse 2015). At the pre conventional level where a newer employee as I was, you reasoning is characterized by obeying authority. At the conventional level, you simply seek the approval of others, and at the post conventional level you have more empathy for others. Unfortunately for me, most managers in my office were at the conventional level where they solely sought the approval from others.  So if a higher level manager found it humorous and okay to gossip about someone, then the lower level employees being reinforced to participate in this behavior. Luckily enough for me, my personal values outweighed by conventional desires. 

A leader’s job is not only to create goal oriented tasks for an employee or follower. A supplementary obligation is to create a work environment that adheres to ethical codes of conduct. In this way creating a health work environment increases job satisfaction among employees as well as increases work productivity. 


  1. American Psychological Association. (2010). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct: Including 2010 amendments. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx
  2. Goleman, Daniel, <iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/X4W0933uFIE” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
  3. Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
  4. Kohlberg, L. (1981). The philosophy of moral development: Essays on moral development (Vol. 1). San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.
  5. Barger, R. N. (2000). A summary of Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. Retrieved fromhttp://www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas/kohlberg01bk.htm (Links to an external site.)


One Comment

  1. Paulina Kulczak September 26, 2016 at 7:36 AM #

    Hi Ashley,

    I have seen almost all (if not all) of the behaviors that you describe in your blog post. The first thing that comes to mind is what we learned in lesson two about Temptations. As the lecture states, “Temptations are situations that entice a person to violate ethical codes of conduct.” (PSU, 2016) One of my thoughts, especially in my own workplace, is that leaders have temptations too! I feel that leaders giving in to their temptations is more harmful than any employee under them giving into their temptations because leaders should set an example. In my particular situation, there is way to often a concern about managers trying to “flirt” with girls or even more-and we are talking about employees not customers. There have been many rumors of pregnancies and other sex- related interactions between management and employees and I feel that it definitely de-values these managers as leaders. It is difficult to respect someone who does not respect employees as well. Part of a leader’s ethical task is to help employees step away from vices and temptations- not promote giving into them.


    Penn State University. (2016). Unit 1: Lesson 2: Vice and temptations [Canvas]. Ethics and Leadership. Retrieved from http://psu.instructure.com/

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar