The Five Principles of Ethical Leadership

In this article, we’ll discuss the five principles of ethical leadership.

In fact, ethical leadership is not only ethical but also very effective. It can shape an organization and its employees to be more productive.

Let’s dive right in.

"The feelings of the individual are the prime authority in ethics. 'If it feels good, do it' is the basic ethical ideal of humanism."
Yuval Noah Harari

What is ethical leadership?

Ethical leadership is defined as the expression of correct and appropriate behavior through one’s actions, interpersonal relationships, and the promotion of such behavior among employees through communication, empowerment, and decision-making.

Ethical executives are perceived as trustworthy, fair, and prudent.

They try to convey certain values to their employees and specifically reward ethical behavior.

On the ethical leadership spectrum, employees should assess whether their manager “listens to what employees have to say,” “only wants the best for the employees,” or “is an example of how to act ethically.”

Ethical Leadership Is More Performance and Satisfaction

Ethical leadership often outperforms other leadership approaches. In relation to leadership through motivation, appropriate rewards, good relations with employees, or avoiding destructive behaviors, ethical leadership could assert itself.

A good leader is able to predict target variables of performance, commitment to volunteer work, or disruptive behavior as well as or better than standard management approaches.

Key Takeaway
Ethical leadership builds trust. And trust means motivated employees.

Trust in executives is the deciding factor. Employees’ trust in their boss conveys the effect of ethical leadership on attitudes and performance.

Those who lead fairly are perceived as trustworthy. This motivates and makes employees more productive and satisfied.

How to Improve Ethical Leadership Skills

Ethical leadership predicts employee attitudes and performance.

The fairer the bosses led, the more satisfied employees were with them, the more satisfied those led were with their work in general, the less they wanted to leave the company, the more motivated they were, the less they hurt the company and the more they performed.

Ethical leadership has sufficient criteria validity regarding attitudes and performance of employees, and the trust that employees place in their managers is the main reason why ethical leadership is related to attitudes and job performance.

Business leaders should keep in mind that ethical leadership is different from traditional approaches such as leadership through motivation or reward.

Since ethical leadership sometimes works even better than traditional leadership approaches, it should always be kept in mind.

It is also advisable as an additional strategy in conjunction with behavioral facets of ethical leadership.

Behavioral Facets of Ethical Leadership

The following is a list of the seven behavioral facets of ethical leadership, ranked in descending order of importance (relationship to external criteria, the overall measure of ethical leadership, inspirational and rewarding leadership, job satisfaction, emotional attachment to the company, is less):

  1. Employee orientation: This is the most significant factor for ethical leadership. The stronger the support of a manager, the happier and more willing the employees will be.
  2. Fairness: Employees are treated fairly and in accordance with the principles. Rewarding employees lead to significantly higher job satisfaction.
  3. Clarification of roles: Clear definition of responsibilities, expectations, and performance objectives. Role clarification has the most positive effects on job satisfaction.
  4. Integrity: The boss keeps what he promises. Above all, a leader of integrity stimulates and motivates people.
  5. Shared power: Employees can have a say, their ideas and fears are taken into account.
  6. Ethical guidance: The manager decides ethical rules, rewards if they are observed, and punishes if they are not observed. This leads to a greater bond between employees and your company.
  7. Interest in sustainability: The sustainability awareness of the managers also leads to a greater commitment on the part of the employees. The core of ethical leadership should be building trust.

A general climate of equity within the company is not enough. Executives should model ethical behavior and specifically reinforce it.

Examples of Ethical Leadership

Nelson Mandela

Mandela’s passing was a severe blow to millions of people whom he inspired by his activism. He was not perfect, but he had great empathy and faced his failures, especially personal ones, with great transparency.

These are the qualities that he highlighted in the chronicle he made of his life. Patience, for example, waiting for opportunities, showing long-term vision was one of his strengths as an ethical leader.

Mandela endured 27 years of harsh confinement and took five more years to win the election.

The ability to forgive, which, when taken in the professional sphere, would imply accepting the mistakes of others, gave him the loyalty of those who worked alongside him.

He learned from mistakes and was cautious and generous. In addition, he had excellent negotiating skills, which led him to reach agreements in which everyone felt they were winning.

Steve Jobs

Without a doubt, Steve Job was a visionary and with strong character, leadership, and management skills. He was a tough boss but to the admiration of those who worked with him.

He was not interested in getting along with others but in using his knowledge, leadership, and behavior to get them to be better individuals for the good of everyone.

His team loved him because he was able to convey the ideals and purpose of what he was asking them to do and let them see the significance and importance of his role.

While the working environment was harsh, Steve Jobs was able to have low employee turnover in the company and in the sector.

The Five Principles Explained

The leaders who stay on top of the economy, politics, sports, entertainment, science, and technology use these five keys and practical principles to develop their leadership:

1. The Leader Brings People Together, Seeking Consensus, Seeking A Sense of Community

It is key that the leader frequently meets with his workgroup. This is to discuss ideas, make plans, take action and solve problems. This aspect is very important because people want to be heard, express their ideas, be part of the solution.

These meetings foster unity, consensus, participation, and empathy among group members.

The opposite of this principle is those tyrants and authoritarian leaders who only issue orders to their subordinates to carry them out without objection. Such a leader is transitory because his followers will soon withdraw their support.

If leadership is the process of influence that a person has over others to mobilize them towards a common goal, the dimension of “community” acquires a central meaning.

Moreover, it happens when the leader tries to direct the team’s actions towards a common goal, beneficial for the leader and followers.

This direction toward mutually beneficial common goals is typical of transformational leadership, with which ethical leadership has significant parallels.

Thus, leadership takes into account the interests of the followers, which entails an attitude of interest and care towards them in the adoption of a community as it relates to people with common goals.

Even leaders and followers may be interested in how their actions will affect the organization, the community, and even from a broader perspective, society at large.

2 . The Leader Should Be Respectful

Companies are made up of human groups that are guided by principles, respect, and values. Since companies have values, these can be positive or negative, humanizing or dehumanizing.

It all depends on how the employees are being led. Every company, like every person, has a moral structure. It is the values that provide guidance to the behaviors of the leader and his team.

In addition, these values shape the culture of the company and are something that every true leader should strive to possess and maintain for the good of the organization.

The ethical leader should be wise about being fair and respectful to his team, the culture of the organization, and the individuals who work hard to maintain.

Leaders should care about the greater good of the organization and its followers.

They do it from a place of humility and respect. They become role models and shape the values of the organization.

They show respect for each person for whom they set high ethical standards. In their relationship with their team, they strive to be reasonable.

3. The Leader Believes in Progress, Seeks Progress, Generates Progress

This is the fundamental principle of leadership. There are always new and better ways of doing things.

In all areas of our lives, people who stand out as effective leaders generate new and better ideas for the development and growth of their work, social and personal environment.

Two important questions for you to ask yourself are: How can I do what I do better? And how can I do more of what I do? The goal should be progress.

It is possible to discover new products, services, and ways of generating income and new technological and scientific advances, making life easier and more pleasant.

For an ethical leader to achieve lasting and complete control, he needs to cultivate the habit of action. Diligent action is the mechanism that drives the engines of progress, advancement, achievement, and invention.

The leader must create new and dazzling ideas, but what gives them real value is the execution and implementation of those ideas.

A regularly executed idea is better than a great idea that doesn’t get done. An effective leader has initiative and fully complies with the plans, projects, and goals set.

When a problem occurs, take appropriate action to resolve the issue.

The group members will wonder: is it that he is a doer or just a talker? Do you show us what work is like, or do you do the work with us? The habit of action is what differentiates a prominent leader from the average person.

The leader should ensure that each member of the team is working towards a common goal at all times. In other words, the leader should ensure that everyone is on the same page.

4. The Leader Should Act As A Servant To Others

Every leader should be a servant to his team. This encapsulates the very idea of ethics.

A characteristic of ethical leadership is altruism and a willingness to serve both the followers and the organization.

These are precisely two components of so-called Servant Leadership.

Altruism supposes that the leader must first attend to the needs of the followers, not being egocentric, integrating his own vision with those of others.

At the same time, the ethical leader has the concept of community as a set of people with common interests. By transferring this concept, the leader brings security to the team members.

True leadership requires seeking the most humane way to solve problems.

When a difficulty arises, it is important that the leader ask the following question: What is the most humane way to solve this challenge? Am I serving the team well? An intelligent leader has excellent human relationships, treats others with honor and dignity.

He should also have an open-door policy where any member of the team feels comfortable in approaching him, knowing they will get a servant-like attitude.

Adding to the idea of servitude, you could easily include justice and equity. The leader should serve his team with fairness and justice.

He should be fair on all occasions, treating everyone equally and without favoritism.

In this way, no one will have reason to suspect unequal treatment.

This means justice and equality are applied in the allocation of resources, rewards, and sanctions. This implies defining clear rules and that when someone is treated differently, the reason for that different treatment is justified.

An ethical leader would build his team rather than trying to advance his own career at their expense.

He should possess humility, putting the welfare of his team ahead of his personal ambitions, goals, and desires.

He should provide empowerment and mentorship to the team as a way to build a solid foundation within the organization.

5. A Leader Should Be Honest

The ethical leader is honest with others and with himself, inspires confidence, and encourages his followers to take responsibility. Honesty means telling the truth, keeping promises, being loyal, and maintaining respect.

However, it’s not just telling the truth; it is also presenting it in a complete way, not hiding and being open. By lying, a leader can transfer to others the idea that he is willing to manipulate. This negatively affects trust.

If he is not honest, the leader will be seen as untrustworthy, inspiring less respect and commitment.

However, it is accepted that there must be a balance between honesty and the omission of information about a situation, the knowledge of which may be counterproductive.

He must operate in good judgment. He must decide to what degree information can be given or why it must be hidden.

Honesty means that the leader should:

  • Refrain from over-promising and not delivering
  • Not avoid being accountable
  • Not hold back on his obligations
  • Not hide behind excuses
  • Not be irresponsible about decisions made and the outcome
  • Not say anything else, but what he means
  • Not lie to cover up mistakes

From the point of view of honesty, ethical leadership involves a broader set of attitudes and behaviors.

In summary, being honest is not promising what cannot be given, not misrepresenting, not manipulating, not hiding behind evasions, and being accountable, that is, giving explanations.


Ethical orientation is of utmost importance too and benefits the company. The ethical leader transmits confidence; dependability to enhance collaboration and teamwork.

This brings people together, promotes their commitment, and improves performance and efficiency. It also improves reputation, a powerful asset that creates trustworthiness, translating into ideal results.

Socrates affirmed that “life without examination is not worth living.” The study of ethical leadership has been driven by the numerous scandals and cases of ethical failure that have affected companies and public administrations.

"Life without examination is not worth living."

However, interest in ethical behaviors, attitudes, and values was already present in other leadership models, such as servant leadership and authentic leadership.

Their role is key as they are the ones who contribute to establishing and strengthening the values of the organization and, therefore, its ethical climate.

About the Author
Hi there, I'm James, founder of Melbado. I have over 20 years of experience as a leader and entrepreneur. Recently, I turned to leadership coaching and writing to pass on my knowledge to the next generation. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me via our contact page.


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