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Jae Young Choi, ’21

PhD, Management

Is the positive impact of ethical leadership on ethical climate enhanced when leaders are authentic?

The topic of the ethical behavior of leaders has received significant interest in recent years due to the plethora of ethical scandals in corporations. As role models, ethical leaders communicate the importance of ethical behaviors to their followers, which in turn leads to ethical climate in unit they lead. In the current organizational setting, it is plausible that leaders feel pressures from peers, high-level leaders, or social forces to behave ethically in workplace given that the demonstration of ethical behavior is more explicitly required than before. Ethical leadership has often been evaluated by followers’ perception. However, it is less clear that demonstrated ethical behavior of leaders are always the authentic demonstration of ethicality. Demonstrated ethical leader behavior may be considered as authentic if leaders exhibit behaviors which are congruent with their moral identity. Authentic ethical leaders displaying ethical behaviors and possessing moral identity may consistently behave in ethical manner not because they fear condemnation or punishment about unethical behaviors but because they are self-aware that ethical behaviors are consistent with their identity. Authentic ethical leaders also have genuine desire to understand their leadership, intensifying their influence toward followers. Therefore, it is expected that the effect of ethical leadership on ethical climate is stronger when leaders are high in moral identity.

Although the major role of ethical leaders is to help followers recognize the importance of ethical behaviors, ethical leadership should begin with the understanding of and commitment to leader’s moral identity. This research suggests that leader behaviors must be rooted in who they are and what matters most to them. When leaders truly know themselves, it is easier to know what to do in any situation.