Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge and Management

An Ethical Ecology of a Corporate Leader: Modeling the Ethical Frame of Corporate Leadership

Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge and Management

An Ethical Ecology of a Corporate Leader: Modeling the Ethical Frame of Corporate Leadership

Article excerpt


Origin of This Study

Recent scandals and trials were the initial reason for beginning this essay. Articles appear almost daily in The Wall Street Journal about CEOs and their upcoming trials. Most business sections of newspapers have had several articles, either about the legal times of troubles for big name CEOs or when they overstepped the boundaries of appropriate CEO compensations (or golden parachutes) (Boatright, 2003; Maremont & Reigber, 2003; Smith, 2003). "One has only to scan the headlines on the financial pages of the world's top newspapers over the past several years to realize why corporate ethics--or the lack thereof--has become perhaps the single most prominent and important business issue of current times and a flash point in the public's eye" (Hemez-Broome, Steed & Lundberg, 2004, p. 3).

Of course, all this talk about graft and corruption began, we can say, with the boondoggle of the Enron scenario, which has certainly underscored the significance of ethical environments. "... Enron's failure was [not] due to faulty accounting or poor regulation, though both of those factors were-and are-very important. Rather, it failed because key leaders at Enron lost their moral / ethical direction at the same time that the company was making multibillion-dollar bets on fatally flawed projects" (Bryce, 2002, p. xi).

Some Assumptions

Leadership is always a difficult mantle to wear. Corporate leadership is a difficult way of being in the world. Its difficulty and challenges are focused on the balancing act among financial concerns, environmental issues, and people. The emphasis in corporate decision making has been on the financial well-being of the firm. This continues. But, now the ethical (moral) dimension has appeared and has been pushed to the foreground, because of the legal situations in which many corporate managers find themselves involved.

Every corporation or organization is a community of practice (Solomon, 1997). Because business is a practiced worldview, business ethics is a way of life, a way of living well within the business world (Solomon, 1992, 1997). The sense of moral action that a corporate leader carries with her in terms of the mental models or interpretative lattices and the cognitive maps that situate her in her business world is a moral consistency supported by a corporation's culture or an organization's climate (Jewels & Evans, 2005; Sims & Brinkmann, 2002). Ethics is a theory of moral practice (Sahakian, 1974). Business ethics is a theory about good business practices (Solomon, 1992).

Moral sensibility is about doing what is right (Solomon, 1997). We traverse rather complex cognitive and emotional maps when we concern ourselves with doing what is right. These cognitive and emotional maps (merely a metaphor) are made up of interpretative models that are at the root of our actions. Many of these interpretative lattices are about interacting with people (Solomon, 1992). All of them are learned, hence historical. They are conceptual structures that we have developed (or learned) over the years of experiencing the world and dealing with people in all kinds of situations. These conceptions of doing the right thing structure action, and any considerations of actions (Solomon, 1997).

Being a corporate leader is doing what is right on several different levels or in several different ways. Being a corporate leader is about integrity, responsibility, and excellence, and perhaps even honor (Lennick & Kiel, 2005). Caesar, it was said, was an honorable man; he had his dignitas. At the end of the day, being a corporate leader means being responsible for more than what is described in the job description. It is about stewardship (McKie, 2003; Nicholson, 1994; Robertson & Nicholson, 1996; Stodder, 2003).

This essay formulates a view of a corporate leader's ethical ecology. It is a collaborative effort with the informant who is a principal of a company. …

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