U02: Ethics in All Things

Recently, a Virginia based college has come under fire for troubling leadership practices.  Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) polled faculty and staff which revealed a concerning direction senior leadership is taking.  The survey found that the staff felt there was “little communication, and when there is, it’s impersonal, faculty and staff aren’t involved in initiatives or projects, hiring has become less transparent and is rushed, and there is micromanagement at all levels” (Spell, 2018).  Additionally, the survey revealed that staff felt that senior leadership doesn’t “have a clear understanding of policy and does not apply policy equitably” (Spell, 2018).

Ethical leadership revolves around the idea that an ethical leader “demonstrates character, morals, and virtue in their work, focusing on the needs and rights of their employees (Study.com, 2018).  By this definition, leaders need to maintain standards that focus on the good of the group or organization, while creating as much benefit as possible.  With that idea in mind, it is unfortunate that this survey has shown several instances that leadership has caused a conflict in ethics.  The APA Code of Ethics was created as a guideline for psychologists to navigate through ethical dilemmas (PSU, 2018).  However, the Code can be utilized in many different organizational environments and focuses.  Using the Code against the ethical conflicts created by senior leadership, an analysis can be formed for VHCC.

To begin, a lack of communication creates misunderstandings between leadership and subordinates that have negative impacts on task completion, job satisfaction, and morale to name a few.  Communication can be viewed as a keystone to holding an organization together.  Out of the survey results, the most notable conflict arising from lack of communication is confusion of actual job responsibilities.  Out of the survey results, the most prominant conflict arising from lack of communication is confusion of actual job responsibilities.  According to May (2018), “when new positions are made or people are moved to new positions, there is lack of communication of what the new responsibilities will be, and this hinders serving students, and other faculty and staff (2018).  VHCC’s senior leadership is violating the APA’s Principle C: Integrity which states the psychologist/leader should “work to be accurate and truthful in their statements and work in general” (APA, 2016).  They are technically not being untruthful, but a case can be made against being accurate.  Not properly delineating job responsibilities produces conflict amongst workers regarding who is supposed to be responsible for particular tasks.  When this type of confusion is generated, the staff suffers from not knowing how to properly execute task completion.  In turn, the students will suffer with them as their programs will not be running efficiently.

Looking at the standards of the APA, Standard 3.04 Avoiding Harm is the most relevant in this analysis of ethical leadership.  3.04(a) states that psychologists/leaders must “take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, organizational clients, and others with whom they work, and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable” (APA, 2016).  Senior leadership of VHCC has violated this standard by their lack of communication and transparency in hiring, along with multiple levels of micromanagement.  These aspects combined can cause cognitive harm to the staff.  The harm caused by lack of communication is a sense of confusion which will likely lead to stress over an extended period of time.  Not having transparent hiring practices is extremely misleading to new employees if they are expecting a particular job description and met with one that is completely different.  This also leads to stress, especially if they are unfamiliar with their new duties and lack the experience or training to execute.  This stress can lead to low job satisfaction if the employees continue to not receive proper explanation of their job duties.

The APA Code of Ethics may have originated for the use of the psychology landscape, but it is clearly applicable in all types of organizations.  Maintaining the principles and standards of the APA will keep leaders on track in making the best decisions for their subordinates, coworkers, or even the general public they may come into contact with.  The APA is a useful tool to keeping personal ethics and values at the forefront when faced with any ethical dilemma, and could also be utilized outside of the workplace to sustain an ethical way of life.


APA. (2016). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved from American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/

L05: Brief history and purpose. (2018). Retrieved from [18FA] PSY 533, Sec 001: Ethics and Leadership: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1913945/pages/l05-brief-history-and-purpose?module_item_id=25041811

May, R. (2018, August 20). Summary of focus groups with faculty and staff. Retrieved from Bloximages: https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/heraldcourier.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/6/35/63530dda-c1ce-11e8-b7a5-4ba61cb02b43/5babf5e24f4ec.pdf.pdf

PSU. (2018). L01: Overview of Ethics. Retrieved from [18FA] PSY 533, Sec 001: Ethics and Ldrshp: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1913945/pages/l01-ethics-defined?module_item_id=25041755

Schofield, T. (2018). What is ethical leadership? Retrieved from Study.com: https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-ethical-leadership-definition-examples.html

Spell, L. (2018, September 26). Report critical of vhcc’s senior leadership. Retrieved from Bristol Herald Courier: https://www.heraldcourier.com/news/report-critical-of-vhcc-s-senior-leadership/article_a57b0194-00ae-534e-b7ed-1362705db00a.html

One Comment

  1. Joan Bertone September 28, 2018 at 3:17 PM #


    Thank you for your insights into the ethical implications of poor communication among the administration on the campus of Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC). In addition to standard 3.04 Avoiding Harm which you discussed, I believe APA code of ethics standard 5.01 Avoidance of False or Deceptive Statements may also be applied to this situation. Section (a) of this standard bars adherents from making any deceptive statement regarding work activities (APA, 2017). The lack of transparency regarding the hiring process and the responsibilities of newly created roles may be a reflection of deceptive or false language in the job descriptions. This could definitely be a factor in the reported confusion about job responsibilities (Bell, 2018).

    In reviewing the APA code of ethics while considering this case, I found that as you said, the APA’s Principle C: Integrity was most relevant, and that the administration’s poor communication is causing harm to their followers (Bell, 2018). However, I had trouble finding a more than tenuous connection to any of the APA’s ethical standards, including standard 5.01 as described above. Since only the standards and not the principles are enforceable by the APA (PSU, 2018), should the administration be APA members, I don’t believe there would be grounds for discipline based on the information you shared about this situation. One of the challenges with a broadly applicable ethical code such as the APA’s is that it cannot possibly address every eventuality. Even though we can look at VHCC’s situation and recognize the administration’s acts as problematic or even unethical, if they are not breaking the law, rules of the organization, or an ethical code to which they adhere, there is little chance of change unless the administration decides the feel like making that change on their own.

    Thank you for sharing this situation and the concerning ethical aspects of it.


    American Psychological Association. (2017, January 1). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct: Including 2010 and 2016 amendments. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/

    Bell, Alaina. (2018, September 27). U02: Ethical in all things. Retrieved from http://sites.psu.edu/psy533wheeler/2018/09/27/u02-ethics-in-all-things/

    PSU (2018). PSY 533: Ethics and Leadership. Lesson 5. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1913945/pages/l05-brief-history-and-purpose?module_item_id=25041811

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