Moral Leadership and
Those who really deserve praise are the people who, while human
enough to enjoy power nevertheless pay more attention to justice
than they are compelled to do by their situation.—Thucydides
Conventional wisdom has it that two of the most glaring examples of academic oxymorons are the terms business ethics and moral leadership. Neither term carries credibility in popular culture and when conjoined constitutes a null-set rather than just a simple contradiction in terms. The reason for this is definitional, but only in part. More significant is that we have so few models of businesses and leaders operating on ethical principles. Simply put, the cliche persists because of the dearth of evidence to the contrary. At best, both these terms remain in the lexicon as wished-for ideals rather than actual states of being.
A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in 1985 revealed that 55 percent of the American public believes that the vast majority of corporate executives are dishonest, and 59 percent thinks that executive white-collar crime occurs on a regular basis. A 1987 Wall Street Journal article noted that one fourth of the 671 executives surveyed by a leading research firm believed that ethics can impede a successful career, and that more than half of all the executives they knew bent the rules to get ahead.1 Most recently, a 1990 national survey published by Prentice Hall