Ethical Leaders Eat, Sleep, and Drink Water
By Kelsey Medeiros, PhD
“The world's most successful people start their day at 4 a.m.”
“Want to be a successful CEO? Get a dog.”
If you’ve been on the internet lately (or ever), you’ve likely seen titles similar to the brazen titles listed above. These pseudoscience ideas that waking up at a specific time, or owning a particular pet, may impact our success are enticing as they provide relatively simple actions that we can take to boost our success. We like articles like these because they give recommendations that generally require minor changes on our part.
However, these recommendations are often overly simplified if not simply inaccurate. For instance, picking up a dog from the local shelter won’t instantly improve your leadership skills. Can we learn how to be better leaders by having a dog? Maybe. Can waking up at 4am be beneficial? Of course. But I can also wake up at 4am and scroll through my Instagram until 7am, accomplishing nothing (#guilty), or pick up a dog from the shelter and ask a loved one to take care of her most of the time, and thereby not engage in any of the dog-owning tasks relevant to my leadership development.
What counts more than simply owning a dog or setting an alarm for a particular time, is the follow-through. Improving our leadership requires that we actively assess our current habits, choices, and skills, consider how they impact our leadership, and make a plan to address any changes we would like to see.
The same is true for developing our ethical leadership. Just as with general leadership, the internet is full of articles discussing how you can be a more ethical leader. At its heart, however, ethical leadership is comprised of two key components – the moral person and the moral manager.
The moral person refers to those actions taken by a leader that reflect his or her ethicality. For example, if a leader chooses not to fudge numbers to make their team look better during a difficult quarter, they would be demonstrating the qualities of a moral person.
The moral manager aspect focuses on how a leader encourages and facilitates ethical decisions among his or her followers. This can be accomplished a number of different ways including active communication of values and emphasizing the importance of ethics by rewarding ethical behavior and punishing unethical behavior.
One of the most influential ways, however, in which a leader can encourage ethical behavior in followers is through role modeling. Interest in role modeling grew after initial research conducted by Albert Bandura at Stanford University. You may remember him as the Bobo doll guy. In the 1960s, Bandura had children watch an adult play either aggressively or non-aggressively with a bobo doll. He then left children alone in a room to play with some toys. Next, the experimenter returned and said these toys were actually the best toys and should be reserved for other children. The children were then moved to a new room with some aggressive and non-aggressive toys (including a bobo doll). Those children who observed an adult play aggressively were more likely to imitate the aggressive behavior with the new toys than those who did not observe the aggressive behavior. This concept became known as social learning theory, representing the notion that we learn how to behave from observing others.
Social learning theory is the basis for understanding how ethical leaders influence follower behavior through moral management. Leader behaviors trickle down to the employees by signaling what is acceptable and unacceptable. If a leader engages in a particular action, it signals that it is acceptable for employees to also engage in this type of behavior. Although communication and reward/punishment systems also play a role, how a leader behaves exerts a significant impact on how followers will then behave. Ethical leadership cannot then, be boiled down to a simple list of do’s and dont’s. And it is certainly not as simple as eating, sleeping, and drinking water.
To jumpstart your modeling as an ethical leader, consider the following questions:
**For an overview of other reasons to be skeptical of pseudoscience titles such as those at the beginning of this post, click here for our previous blogpost: Trimming the Fat Off Bad Science.
The Ethics Advantage Team