What is one characteristic of an ethical leader, and how can leaders strive for this characteristic?
To help you understand the importance of having an ethical leader, we asked business professionals and leaders this question for their insights. From leading with empathy to taking responsibility for your team, there are several characteristics that leaders can strive for.
Here are twelve ethical leadership characteristics to strive for:
Focus on Humility
Humble leaders aren’t restricted by a need to always be right. They readily recognize and openly acknowledge their shortcomings. They listen, they learn, and they are unafraid to bring other voices to the table to ensure the right results. These actions foster collaboration and drive out groupthink, which, in turn, often produces better ideas. Simply learning to balance "I" and "We" language can set you on the path to embracing humble leadership.
Tim Toterhi, Plotline Leadership
Be Transparent and Accountable
An ethical leader is one who is accountable and transparent. They don't just espouse ethical principles, but live by and embody them daily. As part of our leadership training program we encourage our students to hold themselves and others accountable to ethical principles such as treating everyone fairly, with dignity and respect, regardless of their position. They are also taught to be open to critique and change with the right guidance and feedback.
Erick Streelman, King's School
Develop Emotional Intelligence
When planning for the first day and week of school, teachers like to say about students, "They don't care about what you know until they know you care."
Having intelligence, subject matter expertise, and years of experience are important skills. But when you're leading others, trust and relationship don't come until your team members know you care, and experience components of emotional intelligence (EQ): empathy, listening, curiosity, self-awareness, healthy boundaries, and being able to move on after making a mistake.
Taking the time to demonstrate EQ and build rapport with your team will mean that in times of stress, change, and pressure, your team will trust you and be able to rise to the occasion. Emotional intelligence becomes the foundation for strong, healthy teams. It's a key leadership skill for anyone looking to lead ethically to support growth and innovation.
Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, PhD, Director of The Claremont Core®
Stay Well Organised
Well organised leaders can focus on critical issues without losing their grip on business as usual. They stay sensible about planning and deadlines, signalising to staff members that they are reliable and have everything under control. Having a plan helps them demonstrate the highlights of every issue and initiate discussions about how to pivot and adjust.
Rebeca Sena, GetSpace.digital
Lead With Empathy
Empathy is quite likely the number one characteristic of an ethical leader. The ability to emotionally relate to, and understand those you are leading, and those you are affecting will drastically affect the ethical principles of an organization.
If you are a leader and are striving to be more empathetic, seek opportunities to emotionally understand your employees, be more vulnerable, and make logistically beneficial decisions with emotional intelligence.
Furthermore, focus on improving your emotional intelligence and communication skills through practice, reading, meditation, and humility.
Amy Block, Navitar
Take Responsibility for Your Team
Ethical leaders take accountability for the things they have done and are doing. If they make a mistake, they'll own up to it and make an effort to do better next time. Ethical leaders have the ability to bring their teams together. They encourage accountability in their team members as well.
Tirzah Shirai, The Blink Bar
Communicate With Authenticity and Honesty
Ethical leaders embody authenticity in everything they do, from their daily interaction with their team members to the way they manage their own time and other responsibilities. Doing this ensures that they approach every situation with fairness and pragmatism and by being honest, they ultimately encourage others to do the same.
To imbibe these characteristics, leaders can practice open and honest communication with their workforce and managers to ensure that all their team members are on the same page and that no one feels left out in the process.
Riley Beam, Douglas R. Beam, P.A.
Align With Your Company’s Values and Mission
A great and ethical leader is value-driven and mission-driven. All actions they do for the company are aligned with one value or mission, leading by example for their teams and employees. When teams see how their leader acts and reacts based on values, they follow suit.
Katie Keirnan, NUE.life
Lead by Example
Ethical leaders lead by example. They understand their position and the impact that it has on the company, teams and employees and thus understand the importance of setting the right example. They are the ones who the team looks to for guidance on how to act and react to situations that occur on the job. They are the one who clients and customers observe to know how to treat other members of the company. Leadership comes with great power and responsibility and an ethical leader does not take that lightly
Rronniba Pemberton, Markitors
An ethical leader communicates transparently with those who rely on their leadership. Communicating openly, honestly, and regularly with the people working under you increases their trust in you. A leader who hedges, omits or hides information, and only sporadically communicates with staff is a leader not to be trusted. An ethical leader knows the importance of keeping the trust of those they lead, and so is someone committed to fostering and upholding transparency at every level of an organization.
Sharon Arne, Stuart Hall School
Develop Emotional Intelligence
In my view, the most valuable trait of an ethical leader is emotional intelligence. Understanding and managing your own emotions is a fantastic asset when communicating with your investors, employees, customers, partners, and everybody involved in your work. Emotional intelligence makes the leader highly self-aware, empathic, and able to self-regulate, which is crucial in the tough business world. It also gives you a lot of internal motivation necessary to push forward. If one doesn’t understand how their emotions and actions affect them and also others, they are in for a rough ride, especially in the current times, when people value well-being and openness with extra care. Strengthening one’s emotional intelligence starts with becoming more self-aware and mindful. For every leader this process is individual: some learn it from books, some with a coach, and some are able to follow their inner voice and train emotional intelligence on their own.
Ewelina Melon, Tidio
Strive for Integrity
When I was in grade school, my teacher was the first person in my life to define the word “integrity.” He said, “Integrity is when you do the right thing regardless of who is watching.” That really stuck with me. I think integrity is the ultimate characteristic for every ethical leader to possess because it encompasses so many other honorable qualities, including honesty, transparency, accountability and kindness.
Rachel Blank, Allara
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