Unit 01: His side, her side, and the other side… the subjectivity of Ethics

It is important when discussing morals and ethics to remember that there is some level of subjectivity as to what is appropriate or not. People are not perfect, in fact they are often far from it. People may alter their ethical standards as necessary for reasons that they deem appropriate. For example, most of society would deem theft is unethical. However, someone may be stuck in such a position that they are willing to be unethical for the greater good. Similar in nature to the tale of Robin Hood, with that idea that one can steal from the rich and give to the poor.  The heart of the matter is that there is more than one side to consider in terms of ethical decision making. “A code of ethics that is created without leaders who commit to “ingraining honesty and integrity into the corporate culture is an empty ideal,” he said. “And leadership that doesn’t ground itself in a commitment to doing the right thing is destined to fail.” (Prutzman for Nick Valeriani, 2009).

In the book Leadership, by Peter Northouse, ethics is described as “the kinds of values and morals an individual or society finds desirable or appropriate.” Values are influenced by many different factors through the stages of development. In Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development, the there are three levels of development that illustrate some of the influences on moral development. In the earliest stage, pre-conventional, the focus is on obeying authority and is often present in childhood and early adolescence. The moral influence in this stage is derived from those who are in positions of authority in the child’s life and therefore, the moral development during this stage can vary greatly based on each individual influence. During the conventional level of moral development, the individual seeks the approval of others and addresses obligations and duties and is mostly seen in adulthood. There is also some variance during this stage of development as approval is sought in many ways by many different people, and the lengths to which one person may go to address their duties and obligations may also vary greatly. These stages of moral development lay the groundwork of who each person will be in terms of ethics and ethical decision making.

With the constant stream of social media and the scrutiny of the public opinion, it is crucial that leaders and their subordinates act ethically. Long gone are the times when someone had nothing more than their words when facing ethical dilemmas. Through email, text, social media and various types of recording, everything that someone does could potentially be visible to the public at large. One might think that this should not affect how a person behaves, or alter their on the job behavior, but this is not always the case. To be an ethical leader, one must act with moral standards all the time, whether people are paying attention at that time or not. Leaders must lead by example.



Northouse, P. G. (2018). Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Prutzman, D. (2009). A Leaders Perspective on Ethics. Retrieved from: https://www.jnj.com/our-company/a-leaders-perspective-on-ethics

PSU. (2019). PSY 833: Ethics and Leadership. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919

Schindler, J. (2019). Leading with Ethics. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/01/07/leading-with-ethics/#31c2145a568a


  1. Nicole Jean Kennedy February 9, 2019 at 6:29 PM #

    Hi Lori,

    I enjoyed reading your blog! I loved the title and your example of Robin Hood was perfect. You emphasized an important point about ethics that Unit 1 really spells out for us. Someone’s individuality, morals, values, and virtues make up a person’s ethics (Northouse, 2016). Kohlberg’s stages of moral development help us to understand the levels of morality and how a person’s actions and behaviors are explained based on the level of morality in which they fall. Your blog led me back to read Kohlberg’s most famous dilemma, “The Heinz Dilemma”. To paraphrase, the husband, Heinz, had a very sick wife. She needed medicine that was very, very expensive. He asked his friends and family for financial help. Ultimately, he still did not have enough money for the medicine. Heinz asked the druggist to either reduce the cost of the medicine or let him make payments for the difference. The druggist said, “not a chance”. What should Heinz do? Steal the drugs and not go to jail because he was helping his wife? Steal the drugs and prepare to spend time in jail? Or not steal the drugs and leave his wife to die? (Wikipedia, 2018).

    Kohlberg’s theory of moral development is broken into even more explanation. Each level of morality is divided into two stages of development. Level 1: Pre-conventional Morality is made up of obedience and punishment (stage 1) and individualism (stage 2). If someone felt that Heinz should not steal the drugs because stealing is wrong, then that person would fall into the pre-conventional level of moral development. Level 2: Conventional Morality, Kohlberg divides this level into interpersonal accord and conformity (stage 3) and maintaining the social order (stage 4). If someone believed that Heinz should steal the drugs and be prepared to do jail time, this person would exemplify the conventional stage or morality. Lastly, Level 3: Post-Conventional Morality is divided into social contracts and individual rights (stage 5) and universal principles (stage 6). For those that believe Heinz should steal the drugs and not go to jail, these people would fall into the post-conventional level of moral development (Wikipedia, 2018).

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Unit 1! Hope your family is doing well! -nk

    Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership Theory and Practice (Seventh ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
    Wikipedia contributors. (2018, October 25). Heinz dilemma. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:13, February 9, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Heinz_dilemma&oldid=865668109

  2. Azadeh Ardeshir February 9, 2019 at 4:43 PM #

    Hello Lori,
    This page encourage me to read more about ethical dilemma situations. As you mentioned there is more than one side of ethical decision. One way is following the rules which is a clear way to help people to have an ethical decision but sometimes people decide to act in other way to reach to a better position.
    I would mention that in Islam religion, there is a clear rule which says ” rubbing is forbidden and it’s a sin”. but there is some exception which says ” If someone is starving or his\her child is starving, he\she is allowed to rub a piece of bread”. here is a conflict situation: this exception would make the environment unsafe because people can rub stuff and explain that they were starving. it could be problematic situation that people have to think about it.


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