Business executives' perceptions of ethical leadership and its development : implications for higher education and human resource development
Marsh, Catherine, 1947-
MetadataShow full item record
This qualitative study examined the perceptions of ethical leadership held by those who perceived themselves to be ethical leaders, and how life experiences shaped the values called upon when making ethical decisions. The experiences of 28 business executives were shared with the researcher, beginning with the recollection of a critical incident that detailed an ethical issue with which each executive had been involved. With the critical incident in mind, each executive told the personal story that explained the development of the values he or she called upon when resolving the ethical issue described. The stories were analyzed through the use of constant comparison, which resulted in the development of two models: (1) a framework for ethical leadership illuminating valued elements of ethical leaderships and the value perspectives called upon when making ethical decisions, and (2) a model explaining how the executives' ethical frameworks developed. The framework for ethical leadership contains four value perspectives: Mindfulness is the perspective that values the cognitive processes involved when acting ethically; engagement is the perspective that values involvement in ethical action; and authenticity is the perspective that values the character called upon in being ethical. Sustainment is the value perspective that anchors the framework, arising from the participants' narratives as the "that without which" of ethical leadership. The framework was formed due to experiences with trauma, relationships with members of a supportive community, and encounters with difference. The participants had experienced life-changing events and had encountered people who offered them new ways to understand reality, while supportive community allowed them to incorporate what they had learned into a framework that guided them as ethical leaders. A holistic approach based on knowledge within the areas of leadership, philosophy, psychology, and adult education provided a foundation for the study before turning to the business executives themselves for answers. The conclusion of the study returned to the same fields of study and pointed to the ways this study contributed to the philosophers' study of ethics, the psychologists' study of moral development, and the educators' study of learning and leadership. Implications for research and practice are also included.