Throughout my leadership journey, I’ve encountered various terms used to discuss leadership styles.

While I was familiar with the concept of “servant leadership,” the term “ethical leadership” surprised me the first time I heard it.

Shouldn’t all leaders be ethical?

What makes a leader ethical?

What does it truly mean?

Definition for Ethical Leadership

Ethical leadership is a style that reinforces certain principles such as honesty, integrity, fairness, and moral responsibility.

Ethical leaders prioritize “win-win” situations, where all parties benefit, as highlighted by Stephen Covey.

They understand that it’s either a “win-win” scenario or “no deal.” It’s about ensuring everyone wins, or else action isn’t taken.

Ethical leaders hold themselves to high standards.

They emphasize correct behavior and conduct, setting an example and promoting ethical values through their actions.

Key Characteristics of Ethical Leadership:

Ethical leaders exhibit several key characteristics, including:1. Character and Integrity

1. Character and Integrity

A personal experience at Tim Hortons exemplifies this.

When I realized I hadn’t received hockey cards after a purchase, I chose not to take extra packs offered in confusion.

I explained that “taking those extra cards wasn’t worth the damage to my character.”

To an ethical leader, character and integrity matter more than reputation.

They strive for an honest approach and transparent motives, not compromising principles even for extra cards.

2. Respect

During my office days, I’d spend lunch with the custodian, an educated immigrant who chose a custodial job due to limited opportunities in his chosen field.

Despite societal views, I respected his pursuit of a better life.

Ethical leaders respect all individuals, regardless of status, treating them with dignity.

3. Fairness

Spending hours working together often builds friendships.

Yet, when promotions arise, favoritism can be a challenge.

I’ve faced situations where I had to choose someone more qualified over a friend.

Ethical leaders make impartial decisions, considering everyone’s needs and ensuring fair resource allocation.

4. Accountability

I admit I’m not perfect; I’ve made unprofessional mistakes.

Instead of blaming others, I take responsibility.

Ethical leaders admit their mistakes, learning from them rather than shifting blame.

5. Empathy

I’ve noticed a troubling trend—ghosting—in the workplace.

Individuals vanish without explanation, even after training.

Once, an absentee employee’s hospitalization emerged after multiple attempts to contact.

Compassion resulted in job retention.

Ethical leaders show empathy, considering team members’ feelings and concerns, even for those who’ve “ghosted.”

6. Courage

I once engaged in a coffee shop conversation about a conflict from years ago.

By expressing my opposing view, I connected with someone who appreciated the courage to speak up.

Ethical leadership requires standing up for what’s right, challenging unethical practices, and speaking out against injustices.


Ethical leadership extends beyond trust-building.

It contributes to an organization’s ethical culture.

Ethical leaders set an example, fostering an environment that promotes ethical behavior and integrity.

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