Perspectives Across Frontiers
New Horizons in Public Policy series
Edited by Leo W.J.C. Huberts, Jeroen Maesschalk and Carole L. Jurkiewicz
Chapter 6: Ethical Leadership and Administrative Evil: The Distorting Effects of Technical Rationality
6. Ethical leadership and administrative evil: the distorting eﬀects of technical rationality Guy B. Adams and Danny L. Balfour INTRODUCTION This is a tale of two leaders. Both owe their reputation and careers to their membership in the Nazi party and their participation in the tragedy of the Holocaust, yet they are remembered fondly, albeit for very diﬀerent reasons. One, Wernher von Braun, engaged in acts of administrative evil, but managed to achieve considerable success in his career as a rocket scientist. The other, Oskar Schindler, failed repeatedly in his professional and personal life but is remembered as an ethical exemplar, a hero who saved many lives. Their stories poignantly illustrate the paradox of ethical leadership in modern organizations, in which ‘good’ leaders and managers need not be ethical, and ethical leaders run the risk of being marginalized and even ostracized. These cases show that how society judges an individual’s ethical behavior is less a result of the behavior itself than of the social and cultural context in which it occurs. THE CHALLENGE OF ADMINISTRATIVE EVIL We have written extensively on the nature and characteristics of what we call administrative evil (Adams and Balfour, 2004). The central issue for this chapter is that despite an extensive literature on public service ethics, there is little recognition of the most fundamental ethical challenge in modern organizations: that is, one can be a ‘good’ and responsible professional or administrator and at the same time commit or contribute to acts of administrative...
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