Essays on Leadership Ethics
New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by Joanne B. Ciulla, Terry L. Price and Susan E. Murphy
Joanne B. Ciulla The greatest strength and the greatest weakness of leaders is that they are human beings. As such, they are unpredictable creatures, capable of extraordinary kindness and cruelty. They are wise, foolish, careless, reckless, arrogant, and humble – sometimes all at the same time. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant notes, “from such warped wood as is man made, nothing straight can be fashioned.”1 Leaders do not have to live by higher moral standards than the rest of us, but it is imperative that they have a higher compliance rate, because the impact of their behavior impacts on many lives. There are, however, two distinctive factors that make the ethics of leadership different from the ethics of other individuals. The first is power – the way that leaders exercise it and the temptations that come with it. The second is the special moral relationship that they have with followers and the range of people with whom they have moral relationships and obligations. Leaders have to care about and consider the wellbeing of more people than the rest of us. They have moral obligations to people that they do not know and maybe do not even like. Morality requires this of everyone, but for leaders it is central to the special role that they play. The moral obligations of leaders are painted on a large canvas. Leaders are responsible for the big picture and everything in it. Furthermore, part of any leader’s job, in either a small group or as the...