A Call for Ethical Leadership



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“The Internet’s very design built a neutral platform upon which the widest range of creators could experiment.” (Lessig, The Future of Ideas)

Godin, in ‘Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, 2009’ (year of publication), urges anyone with a spare twenty four hours to become a leader, to go start (any) movement as long as it meets people’s desire for connection. Lessig’s assertion about the ethical emptiness of the Internet in the quote above brings Godin’s call for leaders into question. Lessig, the founder of the Stanford centre for Internet and Society is a political activist and a respected voice for ethical use of the Internet. Lessig states that the Internet is neutral; it does not have an inbuilt moral compass, values or ethics. The internet does not hold a sense of responsibility towards the vulnerable, which is where Godin falls down, as he fails to advocate for right and ethical use of this neutral space in his invitation for ‘anyone’ to become a leader, and to lead those who are ‘desperately wanting to be connected.’

“Find a group that is disconnected but already has a yearning … Tell a story to people who want to hear it, connect a tribe of people who are desperately wanting to be connected….you don’t need permission from people to lead them, they are waiting” (Godin, 2009)

Although the area of ethical leadership is fragmented in scholarly research (Avey et al, 2010) with the question ‘what is ethical leadership?’ still widely debated. The research area itself has been growing steadily in the past decade. This increase in growth is believed to be due to the result of the scandals involving corporate and public sector leaders. (Mahsud et al, 2011).

When reviewing cases such as ‘The Jonestown massacre’ and ‘The Manson family’, both showcasing communities of like minds who shared common beliefs, led by a leader around an ideal, a story; the importance of advocating “ethical” leadership becomes even more apparent. It is understood in scholarly research that leaders “play an important role in developing and sustaining ethical cultures and ethical conduct” (Grojean et al., 2004 cited (Avey et al, 2010) This is important because “leadership which lacks ethical conduct can be dangerous, destructive and even toxic.”  (Shamas-ur-Rehman Toor George Ofori, 2009). The leadership of Jim Jones and Charles Manson which led to the mass suicide of 918 people in the Jonestown massacre, and the death of nine people by the Manson family are extreme but clear example of ‘dangerous’ leadership that lacks ethics.

The importance of ethics for leaders to ensure effective governance has been emphasized by religious leaders, philosophers, and thinkers from ancient times. (Shamas-ur-Rehman Toor George Ofori, 2009). As we move into a digitally connected society where the role of leadership becomes even more accessible to ‘anybody’ the call for ethical leadership is more important now than ever. Taking this into account perhaps much greater consideration should be given to ‘who’ we invite to lead us. The responsibility that comes with the leadership role should perhaps also be made clear, when an invitation for leadership is so freely offered as it has been by Godin. “Managers play a critical role in providing a moral framework for organizational members . (Barnard 1938: Grojean et al., 2004 Mendonca 2001) and in shaping the collective character of the organization (Moore, 2005; Wright and Goodstein, 2007 cited by Carlson, Roberts, Chonko, 2009)



  •       Neubert, Carlson, Kacmar, Roberts, Chonko (2009), ‘The Virtuous Influence of Ethical Leadership Behavior’ Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 90, No. 2, P159
  •       Shamas-ur-Rehman Toor George Ofori Ethical Leadership (2009), ‘Examining the Relationship with Full Range Leadership Model, Employee Outcomes and Organizational Culture.’ Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 90, No. 4, P536
  •       James B. Avey,  Michael E. Palanski. Fred O. Walumbwa, (2011), When Leadership Goes Unnoticed: ‘The Moderating Role of Follower Self- Esteem on the Relationship Between Ethical Leadership and Follower Behaviour.’ Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 98, No. 4, P 573
  •       Gary Yuk ,Rubina Mahsud, Shahidul Hassan and Gregory E. Prussia, (2011) ‘An improved measure of ethical leadership’. Behavior’ Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 90
  • Lessig, L. (2001) The Future of Ideas, http://www.the-future-of-ideas.com/ 8 12 2016.


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