Ethical Leadership: How Low Does It Go?
Why Ethical Leadership WorksEthical leadership highlights that behavior displayed through role models (i.e., management, supervisors, co-workers) in the work environment develops the propensity for others to emulate these individuals, and leads to desired and effective organizational behavior. Furthermore, as individuals in a work group are exposed to sanctions for inappropriate behavior – and rewards for positive behavior – they tend to model the behaviors of those who are in line with accepted behavioral norms (e.g., helping behaviors). Thus, ethical leaders influence their subordinates specifically by:
- Serving as a model of behavior to subordinates. Leaders who demonstrate ethical behaviors/decision-making serve as examples for others to emulate.
- Rewarding helpful behaviors and/or punishing unethical behaviors. When leaders establish that positive behaviors are valued and unethical behaviors are not, subordinates are more likely to exhibit, or withhold, such behaviors.
- Creating a propensity for the exchange of good behaviors. Individuals who exhibit beneficial behaviors (e.g., helping) for fellow colleagues pave the way for positive exchanges.
The Trickle-down EffectThe influence of ethical leadership is indirect. It trickles down through top management and flows through supervisory leaders who influence the behavior of employees by way of direct, day-to-day interaction. Although executive leadership has a broad influence on the organization as a whole, they can also influence immediate supervisors and lower-level employees at a more personal level. Because front-line managers generally have more immediate and close relationships with lower-level employees, the effects that executives have on lower level employees are highlighted through the impact they have on front-line managers. Therefore, supervisors can be viewed as an instrument by which the ethical leadership of upper management relates to the behaviors of employees.
Implications for PracticeOrganizations can use this understanding of ethical leadership to improve the behaviors of members by:
- Hiring leaders with strong ethical values.
- Offer training to current management, supervisors, and employees.
The DeGarmo GroupThis was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Mayer, D.M., Kuenzi, M., Greenbaum, R., Bardes, M. & Salvador, R.(2009). How low does ethical leadership flow? Test of a trickle-down model. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 108(1). 1-13.