Over the past few years,the morality of leadership in the workplace has been in question more oftenthan not. Results of a Gallup poll conducted in 2017 on moral values in theUnited States indicated 81% of respondents ranked the state of moral values inthe U.S. as fair or poor and 77% agreed that moral values are only declining (Norman,2017). Morality and ethics are often confused. Although both moral and ethicalvalues help individuals determine the difference between right and wrong, moralityis instilled from personal values while ethics are learned through rules froman external source.
In order for a leader to be effective, morality is an essentialcharacteristic to possess and the absence of morality in a leader can have a disastrousimpact on employees and the organization. The purpose of this article review isto explore how moral leadership can prevent unethical behavior and how a leader’sbehavior can affect their subordinates and the organization. As morality in theworkplace is continuing to decline, it is important for management to understandthe importance of morality in leadership in order to improve morality and ethicaldecision-making throughout the organization. One factor that affectsan individual’s ability to make ethical decisions is their level of morality. Anarticle written by Dr. Rachel E. Sturm, a professor in College of Business atWright State University, explored the individual differences associated withmorality and how morality-based factors can decrease unethical decisions (2017).
This article focuses on the process of how moral awareness can decrease unethicaldecisions instead of the actual causes of unethical decisions, which helpsmanagement understand the individual factors that prevent an individual frommaking unethical decisions. According to Sturm (2017), if an individual has ahigh level of moral awareness, they are less likely to make unethical decisions.Therefore, Sturm’s hypothesis is acceptable because when an individual is morallyinclined, they possess the ability to recognize the ethical aspects of theirdecisions and are more likely have the desire to do what is right. In aresearch study conducted by Sturm (2017), participants were given a cheatingtask and only some were required to answer questions related to morality. Resultsof the study indicated participants with greater moral awareness were lesslikely to cheat although they were given the opportunity to do so. On the other hand, participants who had lowmoral values or lacked moral awareness were likely to overlook the ethicalaspects when making their decisions. Some of the participants in Sturm’sresearch study included supervisors. Since individuals in leadership positions areexpected to lead by example, their behavior can either have a positive or negativeimpact on their subordinates and the organization.
From a positive point ofview, Engelbrecht, Heine, and Mahembe (2017) indicated the integrity and ethicalvalues of a leader can positively influence employee trust and engagement. Thisarticle’s primary focus is on employee engagement and how the relationshipsbetween supervisors and their subordinates can create an organizational culturethat encourages employees to give their best effort. Since employee engagement isvital to the success of an organization, the hypotheses of this article suggestthat trust in leadership and ethical leadership work hand in hand to positivelyinfluence engagement. As a result, the hypotheses are acceptable because leaderswho demonstrate ethical behavior earn the trust of their employees and when employeestrust their leaders, they are more willing to work hard and go the extra mile. Based on the results of the research studyconducted by Engelbrecht et al. (2017), when leaders possess integrity andethical values, mutual trust and employee engagement are more likely to improvewithin the organization.
Consequently, mortality in leadership can decreaseunethical behavior among employees in addition to improving work performanceand the sustainability of the organization. However, when a leader lacksmorality or ignores the ethical aspects when making decisions, their actions willhave a negative impact on employees and the organization. According to Bonner, Greenbaum,& Mayer (2016), “leaders directly influence the ethics of their followers”(p.
731). One of the main issues thataffect organizations today is that morality has been hijacked and many leadersare re-defining what is right or wrong in order to satisfy their need for power,status, or other selfish reasons. Therefore, many individuals do not know whatmorality is anymore or they just do not care, making it imperative formanagement to understand what causes a leader to demonstrate unethical behavioreven when they are accountable to their subordinates. In addition to the impact of unethicalbehavior of leaders on subordinates, Bonner et al. (2016) also focuses on moraldisengagement theory, which is the process individuals use to rationalizeunethical behavior. This theory can cause many individuals to believe theirunethical behavior will result in a great good. The primary hypothesis of thisarticle suggests that moral disengagement of a supervisor is negativelyassociated with ethical behavior.
This hypothesis is believable because when a supervisorfinds a way to justify unethical behavior, their actions and decisions would beconsidered unethical. Additionally, Bonner et al.’s (2016) research study foundthat employees were more likely to perceive a morally disengaged supervisor asethical when the employee was considered to be morally disengaged. Based on theresults of this study, both supervisor and employee disengagement would have tobe low within the organization in order to prevent unethical behavior.As the morality in the U.S. is declining, itis essential for management to first understand the importance of morality inleadership before they can promote morality in leadership and hire leaders withhigh moral values, which will in turn improve ethical decision-making withintheir organizations.
When you turn on the news or read a newspaper article thesedays, you tend to hear about the unethical actions, decisions, and behaviors ofindividuals in leadership positions. It has become evident that morality in theU.S. is only getting worse and consumers of schools, colleges, universities,government offices, private businesses, and many other organizations are sufferingthe mental and financial consequences. Strum’s research demonstrates that aleader with a high level of morality makes ethical decisions regardless of the consequences.In some cases, this may lead to positive outcomes, but outcomes will also benegative in some cases. Using the example of the cheating task, individualswith a high level of morality did not cheat when they had the chance eventhough they knew they could possibly fail.Since moral leaders possess the ability toinfluence their subordinates, this can result in positive outcomes foremployees and the organizations.
Based on the research conducted by Engelbrechtet al., when a supervisor demonstrates moral behavior, employees tend toexhibit the same behavior in addition to gaining more trust in their supervisorand becoming more engaged in their roles and responsibilities in the organization.On the other hand, when leaders know the outcomes of their decisions can benegative, this may cause them to make unethical decisions in effort to achievepositive outcomes. Bonner et al.’s research shows that these leaders use the moraldisengagement theory to rationalize their behavior, causing them to believethey are making the right decision even though they know it is unethical. Unfortunately,a leader who rationalizes their unethical behavior influences theirsubordinates. Therefore, an organization will not be successful if too many leadersand employees have a high level of moral disengagement.
Overall, this articlereview demonstrates that morality plays an essential role in leadership and thebehavior and actions of a leader affect the ethical behavior of theirsubordinates, directly affecting employees and the organization as a whole.