Over the past few years,
the morality of leadership in the workplace has been in question more often
than not. Results of a Gallup poll conducted in 2017 on moral values in the
United States indicated 81% of respondents ranked the state of moral values in
the 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 ethical
values help individuals determine the difference between right and wrong, morality
is instilled from personal values while ethics are learned through rules from
an external source. In order for a leader to be effective, morality is an essential
characteristic to possess and the absence of morality in a leader can have a disastrous
impact on employees and the organization. The purpose of this article review is
to explore how moral leadership can prevent unethical behavior and how a leader’s
behavior can affect their subordinates and the organization. As morality in the
workplace is continuing to decline, it is important for management to understand
the importance of morality in leadership in order to improve morality and ethical
decision-making throughout the organization.

            One factor that affects
an individual’s ability to make ethical decisions is their level of morality. An
article written by Dr. Rachel E. Sturm, a professor in College of Business at
Wright State University, explored the individual differences associated with
morality and how morality-based factors can decrease unethical decisions (2017).

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This article focuses on the process of how moral awareness can decrease unethical
decisions instead of the actual causes of unethical decisions, which helps
management understand the individual factors that prevent an individual from
making unethical decisions. According to Sturm (2017), if an individual has a
high level of moral awareness, they are less likely to make unethical decisions.

Therefore, Sturm’s hypothesis is acceptable because when an individual is morally
inclined, they possess the ability to recognize the ethical aspects of their
decisions and are more likely have the desire to do what is right. In a
research study conducted by Sturm (2017), participants were given a cheating
task and only some were required to answer questions related to morality. Results
of the study indicated participants with greater moral awareness were less
likely to cheat although they were given the opportunity to do so.

On the other hand, participants who had low
moral values or lacked moral awareness were likely to overlook the ethical
aspects when making their decisions. Some of the participants in Sturm’s
research study included supervisors. Since individuals in leadership positions are
expected to lead by example, their behavior can either have a positive or negative
impact on their subordinates and the organization. From a positive point of
view, Engelbrecht, Heine, and Mahembe (2017) indicated the integrity and ethical
values of a leader can positively influence employee trust and engagement. This
article’s primary focus is on employee engagement and how the relationships
between supervisors and their subordinates can create an organizational culture
that encourages employees to give their best effort. Since employee engagement is
vital to the success of an organization, the hypotheses of this article suggest
that trust in leadership and ethical leadership work hand in hand to positively
influence engagement. As a result, the hypotheses are acceptable because leaders
who demonstrate ethical behavior earn the trust of their employees and when employees
trust their leaders, they are more willing to work hard and go the extra mile.

Based on the results of the research study
conducted by Engelbrecht et al. (2017), when leaders possess integrity and
ethical values, mutual trust and employee engagement are more likely to improve
within the organization. Consequently, mortality in leadership can decrease
unethical behavior among employees in addition to improving work performance
and the sustainability of the organization. However, when a leader lacks
morality or ignores the ethical aspects when making decisions, their actions will
have 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 that
affect organizations today is that morality has been hijacked and many leaders
are 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 what
morality is anymore or they just do not care, making it imperative for
management to understand what causes a leader to demonstrate unethical behavior
even when they are accountable to their subordinates.

In addition to the impact of unethical
behavior of leaders on subordinates, Bonner et al. (2016) also focuses on moral
disengagement theory, which is the process individuals use to rationalize
unethical behavior. This theory can cause many individuals to believe their
unethical behavior will result in a great good. The primary hypothesis of this
article suggests that moral disengagement of a supervisor is negatively
associated with ethical behavior. This hypothesis is believable because when a supervisor
finds a way to justify unethical behavior, their actions and decisions would be
considered unethical. Additionally, Bonner et al.’s (2016) research study found
that employees were more likely to perceive a morally disengaged supervisor as
ethical when the employee was considered to be morally disengaged. Based on the
results of this study, both supervisor and employee disengagement would have to
be low within the organization in order to prevent unethical behavior.

As the morality in the U.S. is declining, it
is essential for management to first understand the importance of morality in
leadership before they can promote morality in leadership and hire leaders with
high moral values, which will in turn improve ethical decision-making within
their organizations. When you turn on the news or read a newspaper article these
days, you tend to hear about the unethical actions, decisions, and behaviors of
individuals in leadership positions. It has become evident that morality in the
U.S. is only getting worse and consumers of schools, colleges, universities,
government offices, private businesses, and many other organizations are suffering
the mental and financial consequences. Strum’s research demonstrates that a
leader 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 be
negative in some cases. Using the example of the cheating task, individuals
with a high level of morality did not cheat when they had the chance even
though they knew they could possibly fail.

Since moral leaders possess the ability to
influence their subordinates, this can result in positive outcomes for
employees and the organizations. Based on the research conducted by Engelbrecht
et al., when a supervisor demonstrates moral behavior, employees tend to
exhibit the same behavior in addition to gaining more trust in their supervisor
and becoming more engaged in their roles and responsibilities in the organization.

On the other hand, when leaders know the outcomes of their decisions can be
negative, this may cause them to make unethical decisions in effort to achieve
positive outcomes. Bonner et al.’s research shows that these leaders use the moral
disengagement theory to rationalize their behavior, causing them to believe
they are making the right decision even though they know it is unethical. Unfortunately,
a leader who rationalizes their unethical behavior influences their
subordinates. Therefore, an organization will not be successful if too many leaders
and employees have a high level of moral disengagement. Overall, this article
review demonstrates that morality plays an essential role in leadership and the
behavior and actions of a leader affect the ethical behavior of their
subordinates, directly affecting employees and the organization as a whole.