Ethics, the Heart of Leadership

By Joanna B. Ciulla | Go to book overview

7
Explaining Ethical
Failures of Leadership

Terry L. Price


INTRODUCTION

One surprising feature of ethical failures of leadership is that, very often, the immorality of the relevant decision, action, or policy was never in doubt (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993). Unfortunately, this is true across leadership contexts—in public, private, and nonprofit sectors. For example, when Trent Lott waxed nostalgic over our segregationist past, there was little debate about the immorality of his remarks, which ultimately resulted in his resignation as Senate majority leader. Similarly, we hardly needed sophisticated moral theory to determine whether Enron executives were wrong to engage in accounting irregularities in order to inflate profits. Finally, lest we think that high-profile leaders outside of politics and business are immune to straightforward ethical failure, recall that Cardinal Bernard Law was forced to step down as Boston's archbishop under charges that he repeatedly assigned priests involved in child sexual abuse to new parishes and protected them from criminal prosecution.

Accordingly, when an ethical failure of leadership is exposed, we are inclined to look for an explanation of the leader's behavior, not an analysis of the moral status of what was done, even though much of moral theory is preoccupied with questions of how to determine what morality

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