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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Richard M. Jacobs
May 17, 2016
An Ethics Research Center (ERC) study assists in answering this question. The study, investigating follower perceptions of female and male business leaders, identified ethical differences exhibited in the workplace and what implications those differences have for the workplace.
Male and female business leaders demonstrate similar priorities: They maintain integrity in the organization and treat followers fairly and with dignity. They both also appear to be willing to sacrifice ethical standards to achieve business goals.
Followers also identified two differences in the ethical climate of their organizations:
The outcome? Regardless of sex, compromising ethical standards and retaliation generates skepticism concerning a leader’s commitment to ethical conduct. In this regard, females were more skeptical than males.
One last finding: When confronting a crisis, male leaders were slightly more concerned about protecting the organization’s brand than maintaining follower trust. Female leaders had a somewhat greater degree of concern for their followers’ well-being.
Upholding integrity in the organization appears to be paramount. Doing so requires treating followers fairly and with dignity. When leaders sacrifice their ethical standards to protect the brand, they fail as ethical leaders.
Limiting, if not eliminating that pressure may be critical. As both female and male leaders feel pressured to compromise ethical standards, dealing directly with that pressure is paramount.
Female leaders—who appear to experience greater pressure to compromise their ethical standards—may have a lesson to teach their male counterparts.
Awareness of this pressure appears to cause female leaders to deliberate. In turn, female leaders prioritize what their conduct communicates to followers about their character.
Conversely, male leaders experience less pressure to compromise their ethical standards, but are less resistant to this pressure because they prioritize brand. Taking a cue from their female counterparts, male leaders might strive to be more deliberative, especially by prioritizing what their conduct communicates about their character.
Lastly, when confronting a crisis, be sure to prioritize ethical standards not brand. The failure to do so erodes follower trust and increases skepticism—both female and male followers—concerning a leader’s commitment to ethical conduct.
How might public administrators—both females and males—prioritize ethical standards and encourage their followers to do the right thing, not fearing retaliation?
The ASPA Code of Ethics reminds public administrators they are obliged to demonstrate personal integrity (#6) and to promote ethical organizations (#7).
They demonstrate personal integrity by prioritizing ethical standards and adhering to the highest standards of conduct which inspire confidence and trust. In particular, public administrators:
Public administrators promote ethical organizations by striving to attain the highest standards of ethics, stewardship and public service. In particular, they:
By prioritizing these standards in the decision-making process, public administrators communicate to followers how they might do the right thing, not fearing retaliation. Additionally, followers will be less likely to become skeptical of the administrator’s commitment to build a more ethical workplace.
Author: Richard M. Jacobs is a professor of public administration at Villanova University and chair-elect of the ASPA Section on Ethics and Integrity in Governance. His research interests include organization theory, leadership ethics, ethical competence, and teaching and learning in public administration. Jacobs may be contacted at: [email protected].