Effect of Leaders’ Conduct on the Ethics of the Unit – Annotated Bibliography

Abundant research shows that the behavior of authority figures trickles down within a social unit. These resources show how a leader’s conduct can impact the ethics of a unit, and provide examples, anecdotes and prescriptions to bolster your ethical values-based leadership skills and habits. 

Badaracco Jr., J. (1998/2002). The Discipline of Building Character. Harvard Business Review Reprint 98201. 

Aristotle wrote that we are what we do, that is, that our behaviors and decisions influence our core values and these values influence later decisions and actions. This article frames this virtue philosophy in modern terms for individuals, units, and institutions. The fundamental notion is that defining moments offer us the opportunity to clarify and enact our values. This is important for leaders because their values influence unit values. 

George, B. (2003). Authentic Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, believes too many leaders think with a short-term view, often sabotaging an organizations’ later effectiveness through self-serving and often unethical behavior. He calls for leaders to be focused on stewardship of assets beyond their often short tenure, and how they serve and develop their employees. He holds that authentic values-driven leaders build authentic cultures within their organizations, and that this enables those organizations to be more effective. These three pillars, combined with stories from his own experience, paint a convincing picture of the value of authentic leadership.   

George, B. (2015). Discover Your True North. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

In Authentic Leadership, George attempts to convince you of the value and importance of this leadership style. This text is a practical guidebook to help you develop this leadership style. Here, George expands on his 2007 book True North. He offers profiles of 101 authentic leaders as well as self-reflection exercises that help you develop your authentic leadership skills. His premise is that ethical authentic leaders will build this culture in the organizations they lead, impacting the behavior of their members through example of service-based leadership.

Kerr, S. (1995). On the folly of rewarding A while hoping for B. Academy of Management Executive, 9(1); 7-14.

Kerr’s famous article reminds leaders that they shape their unit members and culture through the reward structures they create and enforce. He reviews rewards systems of many institutions, including medicine and universities and describes four causes for why they reward the wrong things.  

Kraemer, H. (2011). From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Kraemer, former CEO of Baxter and Northwestern University instructor, believes that organizations need, benefit from, and even demand values-based leaders. In this book, drawing from his own experience and that of others, Kraemer provides practical advice, recommending four pillars of values-based leadership: self-reflection, balance and perspective, true self-conscious, and genuine humility. Fundamentally, his prescription for leaders is, “do the right thing!” While this is critical for leaders, it is still paramount for academics and business professionals at any level. This easy-to-read 2012 Silver Medal Nautilus Book Award Winner provides a framework to grow in self-knowledge to become a values-based person and leader.  

Gebler, D. (2012). The Three Power Values: How Commitment, Integrity, and Transparency Clear the Roadblocks to Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

In this book, Gebler emphasizes the importance of culture for the success of any organization. He expounds on the relationship between values and culture and the behavioral roadblocks that you may be unconsciously placing in the way of your unit’s success. This book explains how integrity, commitment, and transparency align values, goals, and principles orienting your unit for high performance. He suggests that leaders do not realize the importance of culture or whether the culture they have fostered or inherited encourages illegal or unethical behaviors. This book will help you ask critical questions and consciously think about the unit culture you have and want.

Panico, C. R. (2013). Naked Leadership: Lead to Win Hearts and Minds. Business and Professional Ethics Journal, 32: 259-270. 

Taking the perspective that “culture is always a reflection of our leadership values,” this article emphasizes the importance of trust for the development and maintenance of an ethical culture. Panico warns against allowing a culture to be formed by default, that is, without conscious shaping. Instead, he suggests that by fostering trust and loyalty, you can earn the admiration and followership of your unit, while you form them into ethical actors by example.

Sutton, R. I. (2010). Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best and Learn from the Worst. NY: Business Plus. 

In his book, The No Asshole Rule, Sutton describes how jerks at work can destroy a positive workplace culture. In this follow-up book, he shifts his focus to the importance of the leader for shaping the culture of the workplace. This book is based on research and real life examples of both the positive and negative influence leaders have. Sutton cautions leaders about the immense impact they can have over work and personal lives, affecting performance, health, and enjoyment of everyone in the unit and beyond. This book is packed with advice on avoiding toxic cultures and having a positive influence on your work unit such as the importance of mindset for leadership, connecting what you say with what you do, and controlling your emotions and responses to avoid lashing out at your unit members. 

Treviño, L. Hartman, L. & Brown, M. (2000). Person and Moral Manager: How Executives Develop a Reputation for Ethical Leadership. California Management Review, 42(2), 128 – 142. 

This article is especially important for leaders of large units and higher level institutional administrators. Focusing on the importance of reputation, Treviño and colleagues point out that morality is about both who you are, how you behave, and the decisions you make. They discuss the importance of the leader in role modeling, rewarding and punishing, and communicating ethics and values. All of these influence how followers perceive their leaders, and those perceptions have real-world consequences. The article concludes with practical advice for leaders: share your values and see yourself as the chief ethics officer of your unit.

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