Thomas Carlyle

In Pursuit of Ethical Leadership

Isaac Mostovicz writes that ethical leadership requires a commitment to engaging with others while remaining true to your own beliefs...

Leadership is a developmental process, based on the type of worldview which a leader holds.  But what is truly ethical leadership and can it be applied in practice?

As previous blog entries have discussed, people tend to make choices – and leadership decisions – either as a Theta or a Lambda.  Thetas seek affiliation and order whereas Lambdas seek achievement and challenges.

Many people, from philosophers to business strategists, have attempted to understand the fundamental nature of leadership.  Some, such as the 19th-century Scottish thinker Thomas Carlyle, argued that ‘great men’ or leaders are born, and that they hold naturally the essential skills which end up being mimicked by others.

Others, such as those from the developmental school of thought, believe that leadership skills are accumulated over time based on one’s experience and how one anticipates or sets expectations for the future.  In this sense, the leader is not born but rather ‘developed’ over time.

In my academic writing, I have argued that leaders tend to plan organisational activities and strategies based on their respective worldview (Theta or Lambda).  For instance, a Lambda leader who seeks challenge and creation may not naturally be able to provide the feedback and support that a Theta employee may need.  Conversely, a Theta leader who seeks unity and certainty may stifle the creative contributions and drive for personal achievement that Lambda employees offer.

As a result, ethical leaders must constantly strive to respect the worldviews of others within the organisation while remaining true to their own way of seeing the world.  This dynamic process suggests that truly ethical leadership is impossible to achieve in practice.  Rather, it can only be pursued as an ideal based on constant engagement with colleagues and other stakeholders.

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