As organizations have grown larger and more complex over the last 75 years, the task of leadership within them has evolved to keep pace with the different dimensions of this cumulatively intricate state of affairs. There are several essential core leadership skills in which most candidates for such roles must possess exceptional proficiencies. However, a truly inspiring leader requires much more in the modern world.

Let’s explore one indispensable dimension of leadership that can hardly be reduced to a “skill; it’s more of a guiding spirit of integrity embodied by the most successful, intelligent, and respected leaders. Here is a look at the role of ethics in leadership.

Why ethical leadership is so important

In a recent article for Forbes, leadership coach and TEDx speaker Sharissa Sebastian writes of the profound qualities required of true leaders in troubled times. They exemplify characteristics that are, in important respects, duties rather than merely “skills”. For example, Sebastian writes of the duty to take care of one’s health, both mentally and physically, in order to remain a reassuring presence for others during anxiety-provoking periods of uncertainty. She also discusses the duty to remain reassuringly but realistically optimistic through periods of apparent darkness, and the duty to practice humility.

To those unfamiliar with leadership, that last one might seem counterintuitive. However, in humbly accepting responsibility for any errors one has made and speaking to one’s teams honestly without sugarcoating risks during periods of turmoil, a good leader sets an extraordinarily beneficent example for others to adopt as their own.

These attributes are all aspects of what has come to be called “ethics in leadership”; in more everyday parlance, ethical leaders not only “talk the talk” when required to do so but also “walk the walk”, leading others by their own example.

In other words, what distinguishes an ethical leader from a merely clever one is that the former models the moral behavior he or she expects of others, while the latter may simply offer intelligently pragmatic verbal guidance. The ethical leader may do this as well, but if the merely clever leader lacks the moral dimension exhibited in words and deeds every day by their ethical counterpart, they will soon lack respect and fail to encourage or inspire others to give their best.

This moral dimension can’t be underrated. In commercial settings, for example, an ethical leader shows by example that investors can have faith in the organization they represent. With such leadership, customers are more inclined to feel loyal, partners and vendors are more trusting, and employees are more motivated and charged with good morale.

How to become an ethical leader

Well-socialized people seem to know at a very deep level the distinction between good and bad conduct; people who have suffered significant mistreatment and hardship in their lives often do, too. Even minor dishonesty torments them at a deep level, and the deliberate mistreatment or disregard for other people’s feelings and entitlement to respect are typically seen as unconscionable acts. This is why ethically guided people strenuously avoid such misconduct, as they intuitively know that it comes at a terrible price: a tormented conscience, which, in turn, impairs functioning and even mental health.

With this foundation in place, it’s possible to deepen one’s knowledge of ethical considerations in human affairs with a view to becoming a leader.  People who are already showing leadership aptitudes can now expand their professional horizons thanks to the availability of advanced-tier “terminal degree” qualifications in ethical leadership.

The encouraging news for people with budding leadership potential is that this specialized, doctoral-level training is now being offered by established and respectable universities on an entirely online basis. In other words, it can be earned without having to sacrifice any family or work commitments because the program can be studied around these obligations from the comfort of one’s own home rather than instead of them.

The online doctorate of leadership program offered by respected and long-established centers of higher education excellence, such as Kentucky’s Spalding University, is a case in point. Students gain access to a collaborative, interdisciplinary, and globally conscious program to equip them to become innovative, inspirational, and transformational leaders.

The moral foundation brought with them to the online classroom will be extended to encompass the interdisciplinary study of the types of systematic conceptualizations needed by world-class leaders operating in a diverse world and a global economy.

The result is a mentally agile, deeply learned professional leader who is unflinchingly able to evolve in accordance with dynamically changing environments while retaining that foundational “moral compass” that not only inspires such trust and morale in one’s teams and colleagues but also helps generate wealth and well-being.

This kind of ethical integrity is exceptionally well-compensated, but from a moral standpoint, it’s priceless.

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