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The Ethics of LeadershipHuman Resource Management

Leadership and Values

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Introduction

In the previous chapter, we examined many different facets of power and its use in leadership. The topics in this chapter go hand in hand with understanding the role of power in leadership. That is because leaders can use power for good or ill, and the leader’s personal values may be one of the most important determinants of how power is exercised or constrained. For example, a political leader may be able to stir a group into a frenzy (and become even more popular) by identifying a scapegoat to blame for a community’s or nation’s problems, but would it be right? Is it ever right for a political leader to stir a populace into a frenzy? And what standards should govern the application of such power? Or, a person may be promoted to leadership positions of ever-greater responsibility and reward, but at a cost of broken relationships in his family life; would you choose that trade-off?

The mere possession of power, of any kind, leads inevitably to ethical questions about how that power should and should not be used. The challenge of leadership becomes even more complex when we consider how individuals of different backgrounds, cultures, and nationalities may hold quite different values yet be thrown into increasingly closer interaction with each other as our world becomes both smaller and more diverse. This chapter will explore these fascinating and important aspects of leadership.

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Leadership and “Doing the Right Things”

In Chapter 1, we referred to a distinction between leaders and managers that says leaders do the right things whereas managers do things right. But just what does the “right things” mean? Does it mean the “morally right” things? The “ethically right” things? The “right things” for the company to be successful? And who’s to say what the “right things” are?

Leaders face dilemmas that require choices between competing sets of values and priorities, and the best leaders recognize and face them with a commitment to doing what is right, not just what is expedient. Of course, the phrase doing what is right sounds deceptively simple. Sometimes it will take great moral courage to do what is right, even when the right action seems clear. At other times, though, leaders face complex challenges that lack simple black-and-white answers. Whichever the case, leaders set a moral example to others that becomes the model for an entire group or organization, for good or bad. Leaders who themselves do not honor truth do not inspire it in others. Leaders mostly concerned with their own advancement do not inspire selflessness in others. Leaders should internalize a strong set of ethics, principles of right conduct or a system of moral values.

eadership cannot just go along to get along . . . Leadership must meet the moral challenge of the day.

Jesse Jackson

Both Gardnerand Burns have stressed the centrality and importance of the moral dimension of leadership. Gardner said leaders ultimately must be judged on the basis of a framework of values, not just in terms of their effectiveness. He put the question of a leader’s relations with his or her followers or constituents on the moral plane, arguing (with the philosopher Immanuel Kant) that leaders should always treat others as ends in themselves, not as objects or mere means to the leader’s ends (which, however, does not necessarily imply that leaders need to be gentle in interpersonal demeanor or “democratic” in style). Burns took an even more extreme view regarding the moral dimension of leadership, maintaining that leaders who do not behave ethically do not demonstrate true leadership.

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Whatever “true leadership” means, most people would agree that at a minimum it would be characterized by a high degree of trust between leader and followers. Bennis and Goldsmit describe four qualities of leadership that engender trust. These qualities are vision, empathy, consistency, and integrity. First, we tend to trust leaders who create a compelling vision: who pull people together on the basis of shared beliefs and a common sense of organizational purpose and belonging. Second, we tend to trust leaders who demonstrate empathy with us—who show they understand the world as we see and experience it. Third, we trust leaders who are consistent. This does not mean that we only trust leaders whose positions never change, but that changes are understood as a process of evolution in light of relevant new evidence. Fourth, we tend to trust leaders whose integrity is strong, who demonstrate their commitment to higher principles through their actions.

Another important factor impacting the degree of trust between leaders and followers involves fundamental assumptions people make about human nature. Several decades ago, Douglas McGrego explained different styles of managerial behavior on the basis of people’s implicit attitudes about human nature, and his work remains quite influential today. McGregor identified two contrasting sets of assumptions people make about human nature, calling these Theory X and Theory Y.

In the simplest sense, Theory X reflects a more pessimistic view of others. Managers with this orientation rely heavily on coercive, external-control methods to motivate workers such as pay, disciplinary techniques, punishments, and threats. They assume people are not naturally industrious or motivated to work. Hence, it is the manager’s job to minimize the harmful effects of workers’ natural laziness and irresponsibility by cllosely overseeing their work and creating external incentives to do well and disincentives to avoid slacking off. Theory Y, on the other hand, reflects a view that most people are intrinsically motivated by their work. Rather than needing to be coaxed or coerced to work productively, such people value a sense of achievement, personal growth, pride in contributing to their organization, and respect for a job well done. Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, seems to exemplify a Theory Y view of human nature. When asked, “How do you stand up to executives?” Jackson answered, “Well, I just find that most people appreciate honesty. I find that if you try not to have any pretensions and you tell the truth, you talk to them and you treat them as collaborators, I find that studio people are usually very supportive.”

But are there practical advantages to holding a Theory X or Theory Y view? Evidently there are. There is evidence that success more frequently comes to leaders who share a positive view of human nature. Hall and Donnelreported findings of five separate studies involving over 12,000 managers that explored the relationship between managerial achievement and attitudes toward subordinates. Overall, they found that managers who strongly subscribed to Theory X beliefs were far more likely to be in their lower-achieving group.

One behavior common to many good leaders is that they tend to align the values of their followers with those of the organization or movement; they make the links between the two sets more explicit. But just what are values? How do values and ethical behavior develop? Is one person’s set of standards better or higher than another’s? These are the sorts of questions we will address in this section.

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What Are Values?

Values are “constructs representing generalized behaviors or states of affairs that are considered by the individual to be important. When Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” he was expressing the value he placed upon political freedom. The opportunity to constantly study and learn may be the fundamental value or “state of affairs” leading a person to pursue a career in academia. Someone who values personal integrity may be forced to resign from an unethical company. Thus, values play a fairly central role in one’s overall psychological makeup and can affect behavior in a variety of situations. In work settings, values can affect decisions about joining an organization, organizational commitment, relationships with co-workers, and decisions about leaving an organization It is important for leaders to realize that individuals in the same work unit can have considerably different values, especially since we cannot see values directly. We can only make inferences about people’s values based on their behavior.

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