Morality and Leadership
Ethics and Morals
It might be wise to make an important note on the meaning of the words “ethics and morals” in order to clarify how they are used. Occasionally people do see a difference between the two and it usually boils down to the following: „It is preserved that ethics relate to social values while moral – to personal ones” (Wilson, 1993, p. 72).
In spite of this, a long-established practice exists which leads to the tradition of using the two terms as synonyms. This attitude towards ethics and morals may trace its historical roots all the way to ancient Hellas. Augustinian replaces the Latin term ‘morale’, introduced by Aristotle, with the Greek one ‘ethikos’. In general, ethics and moral have an identical meaning. For that reason when speaking about ethics and moral we actually mean the same thing.
“The moral triumphs and failures of leaders are much more powerful and spectacular than those of the followers” (Ciulla, 2001, p.13).
In the field of leadership, the idea of discussing the leader’s moral becomes more and more relevant. It is a fundamental issue which seeks to form our understanding of leadership.
Ethics, in which moral forms a part of its categorical apparatus, studies the human relationships. It occupies itself with what we have to be or what we have to do as human beings – as members of a group or society, engaging in different social roles that we encounter in the course of our everyday lives. Ethics deals with categories such as right and wrong, good and evil (Burtovaya, 2001, p. 41).
“Leadership is manifested through a special type of human relationship. The distinctive marks of this relationship are power, vision, obligations, responsibilities, honesty etc. The introduction of ethics and morals into this relationship will give us a more complete idea of what leadership is, because some of the basic ethical problems are problems of leadership as well, which include the aspiration for self-development, self-analysis, self-control, moral obligations to justice, competence and wellbeing” (Krishnan, 2003 p. 346).
Ethics deals with two principal categories. The first one is the descriptive – it reflects the actual state of affairs. The second one is normative and represents a relationship, as it should be. This approach allows to examine a leader’s moral concerning the two aspects and to define accurate fields of development. Thus, the path of becoming the perfect leader may be traced.
The leader’s moral represents a very complex concept. It reflects the degree in which a leader’s behavior lives up to his idealistic image formed by his followers. Within the boundaries of the culture, values and norms of every group specific requirements and expectations towards the leader are formed as well.
The sum of all the answers to the question “What makes a perfect leader?” forms the normative frame of the leader. In essence, it is a dynamic group process – depending on the stage of group development, it presents different requirements of the leader or has different expectations of the relationship with him.
The group norm is the sum of the member’s opinions, which do not contradict themselves and conform to the group’s values. The norms are strictly specific to every group. For the young and ambitious employees it may be common to expect from their leader to develop their professional skills and give them intellectual incentives, which requires great efforts.
However, the employees at senior age, just before retirement, would probably have other values in the form of maintaining the status quo, strict observation of the working time, maintaining good relationships within the group etc.
In this case, they would have a certain norm of their leader, which includes assigning routine tasks and natural behaviour.
If the leaders of these two groups do not show behaviour that corresponds to the norm, (expectations of their followers) the members could see them as unethical or lacking moral. A leader’s moral is the meeting point between the followers’ expectations and his real behaviour. We can see another aspect of leadership forming, an aspect which the successful leader must be capable of controlling – his morals. It is a common mistake to classify a given situation as moral or immoral.
These two definitions may only point to the solution but not to the problem. The problem itself is not the leader’s behaviour and, as a result, it can be neither ethical, nor unethical. Moral does not provide an answer to the question whether to do something specific or not but state how it may be done in order to conform to group’s norms and expectations.
Certainly, this separates successful from unsuccessful managers. A successful leader would search for a solution not in the direction of satisfying the necessities of all the followers, but in that which is close as possible to the group’s norms.
In order to clarify fully this principle, let us look at the following example: Because of diminishing sales, it is necessary to cut the expenses by cutting the workers’ wages. There are two ways to achieve this – by firing 10% of all employees or by cutting all salaries by 10%. Which of the two is most suitable? This is the leader’s moral dilemma.
Both decisions may be suitable or unsuitable, depending on the group’s norm for leadership. If the followers are led by a heavy-handed leader, who does not respect social justice, then they could easily accept the job cuts, but not the wage-cuts. If the group has formed an image of its leader as socially just, then any job cuts would be a taboo for them. In the example at hand, the leader has to take into account the group’s norm and to act accordingly in order to avoid being declared immoral. At the same, it must be said that a leader’s rejection of making a decision may also be classified as moral or immoral.
The primary task of a leader in relation to morals is to observe constantly how the group model changes. He may exert direct influence over the group’s attitudes. In other words, the group’s norm concerning the leader develops with his active participation. Every leader needs to understand this and to observe this process. The more often it is executed, the more objective it is, and the more adequate a leader will be. Let us remembersome historical leaders – Hitler, Mussolini or Stalin.
An undeniable fact is that, in their time, they had numerous followers who thought of their actions as moral. Today, their actions and the consequences of them seem to us unethical. The reason for this is precisely the dynamics of people’s necessities. In a given historical moment, large groups of people necessities and expectations which formed specific ethical norms and the dictators shaped their behaviour in accordance. Today, most people’s necessities are different and they have totally different expectations. This creates a norm within which the behaviour of the three leaders appears as unacceptable and amoral.
A leader’s high moral (a strong relation between the norm and the leader’s behaviour) is a source of power to him. The more the leader lives up to the group’s expectations, the more his followers trust him.
If they may predict his actions, they would feel peaceful and confident. They will be sure that the leader will always act in the best possible way and would give him their full trust and with it – the social power to have an influence over the behaviour of the group. In political discourses we can often hear the phrase “credit of trust”.
It means trust given to someone without an objective reason for it. Until this “advanced” trust is justified, it often devolves into an issue that lacks moral or professional ethics. It was already made clear why the chronology is as it is. When a person “bestows his trust upon another, then he expects the latter to act in a certain manner.
When the expectations and reality meet, then we have conformity between the norm and the behaviour and we may speak of an ethical deed or behaviour. Otherwise, it leads to accusations of low morals.
Moral is the direct gauge of how much a leader acts in accordance to the ethical norms of the group. The discrepancies between the two may be caused by two things – not knowing and being incapable or unwilling to take them into consideration. The first one is related to the social intelligence of the leader, while the second one to his personal qualities.
Social Intelligence and Morals
The inability of a leader to get his bearings in an adequate manner within the system of the group’s ethical norms is related to his social intelligence but also has direct impact over the evaluation of his morals.
“Social intelligence is the readiness to handle in an effective manner complex social relationships or situations” (Albrecht, 2006, p. 41).
N. Humphrey – a psychologists and professor in London School of Economics – thinks that not the intelligence quotient, but social intelligence determines how successful a leader is.
The social studies researcher R. Honeywell thinks the quotient of social intelligence is an aggregate measure for self-control and social orientation. SQ or social intelligence quotient defines the stage of social beliefs development and attitudes, the ability and willingness to manage complex social tasks. People with high values of social intelligence are not better or worse from those with lower ones, but they have different attitudes, hopes, interests and necessities (House, 2011).
The first definition of social intelligence belongs to E. Thorndike from 1920. It says: “The ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls, to act wisely in human relations” (Thorndike, 1920, p. 230).
It is necessary to lay down only the approximate limit of the skills array, abilities and competences that a leader needs to possess in order to successfully manage the level of his moral or behavioural ethics. The more adequately he is oriented in the social reality, the more precisely he will be able to diagnose the expectations of him and to constantly update his ethical norms.
If this is achieved, it is a question of a leadership decision whether the behaviour will reckon with the norm or not. In this situation, his deeds might not be in line with the norm, it is a matter of choice. Nevertheless, a leader who is not capable of deciphering correctly the norm for his own behaviour is doomed to be declared amoral by his followers and to lose the social power.
- There is a conditional distinction between ethics and morals. The former is used to label social values, while the latter – personal. However, their use as synonyms becomes ever more prevalent.
- Ethics deal with two principal categories. The first one is the descriptive – it reflects the actual state of affairs. The second one is normative and represents a relationship. This approach allows to examine the leader’s moral concerning the two aspects and to define accurate fields of development.
- The leader’s moral represents a very complex construct. It reflects the degree in which a leader’s behaviour lives up to his idealistic image, formed by his followers. Within the boundaries of the culture, the values and norms of every group are shaped into the specific requirements and expectations of the leader.
- It is a common mistake to have a certain situation classified as moral or immoral. These two definitions may only point to the solution, but not to the problem. The problem itself does not represent the leader’s behaviour and, as a result, it cannot be ethical or unethical.
- A leader’s high moral (a strong relation between the norm and the leader’s behaviour) is a source of power to him. The more the leader lives up to the group’s expectations, the more his followers trust him.
- The inability of a leader to get his bearings in an adequate manner within the system of the group’s ethical norms is related to his social intelligence but has direct impact over the evaluation of his morals.
- Albrecht, K. (2006) Social Intelligence, New York.
- Bentham, J. (2000) An Introduction to The Principles of Morals and Legislation, USA.
- Ciulla, J. (2001) Ethics and Leadership Effectiveness, Louisiana.
- House, R. (2011) Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, USA.
- Krishnan, V. (2003) Power and moral leadership: role of self-other agreement, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 24 Iss.: 6, p.345 – 351.
- Thorndike, E. Intelligence and its use. Harper’s Magazine, 140, 1920, 227-235.
- Wilson, J. (1993) The Moral Sense, New York, 1993.