Managing Ethics: The Role of Leaders in Promoting Ethical Culture in the Workplace

Leaders play a fundamental role in promoting ethical culture in an organization. Ethical leaders serve as guides and offer support for employees to implement ethical practices in the workplace. Organizational leadership is concerned with influencing the behaviors and actions of employees. Thus, ethical leaders can promote ethical culture in the workplace by fostering positive ethical values and practices among employees. Research on ethical leadership is limited, and much less in enhancing ethical culture in the workplace. This article examines the practical roles of leaders in creating and maintaining ethical culture in the workplace.

Creating a Vision for Ethical Practice

One of the key approaches through which leaders can promote ethical culture in an organization is by creating a clear vision for others to follow. A leader’s role is to develop specific direction of the organization and influence others to follow such direction. Therefore, leaders should establish a vision of ethical culture by specifying the desired ethical direction of the organization. This involves creating goals and objectives of ethical behavior such to be a leading ethical company in the world or to behave ethically in all official matters.

Defining Ethical Values

Once the leader sets a clear vision and goals for ethical behavior, he or she should identify relevant ethical values that will help the organization to achieve the set goals and objectives. Ethical leaders use their individual values and those they have learned through practice to develop effective ethical values of their organizations. Some of the ethical values that ethical leaders can identify include respect, dignity, honesty, transparency, responsibility, and accountability. The best way for a leader to identify the right set of values for the organization is to establish the moral values that matter to them as individuals, and then align those values with the organizational needs.

Communicating Ethical Expectations

After identifying a clear vision, ethical goals and values of the organization, a leader should communicate those goals and values to employees. Communicating ethical expectations is necessary to avoid ambiguities and enhance clear understanding of the expected ethical standards and values. Ethical values can be communicated through emails, memos, and meetings. An essential quality of effective leaders is good communication. A leader should clearly and effectively inform employees about the ethical values of the organization so that everyone knows how they should behave to promote ethical culture in the workplace.

Creating Ethical Codes, Rules and Procedures

An ethical code of practice is necessary to guide employees’ behavior in the workplace. An ethical code consists of ethical values and rules for employees to follow in their daily activities. Ethical leaders have an important role to identify and put the ethical values and rules in written format. This makes the code of practice an important part of the organization’s ethical culture. Thus, ethical leaders promote ethical culture by setting the required ethical values and standards, and identifying the rules and procedures of implementing such standards. This includes the possible consequences for failing to follow the ethical code of the organization.

Establishing an Implementation Team

It is important for leaders to create a team of ethical leaders and employees to implement the required ethical values. Organizations with comprehensive ethical codes can create an ethics committee to implement their ethical values. In this regard, an ethical team composed of experts and employees are an important element of ethical culture in the workplace.

Leading by Example

Once the ethical values have been identified, codified, and implemented, ethical leaders should follow the required values religiously in order to set a good example for others to emulate. Leaders should behave ethically in everything they do and always identify potential situations of unethical behavior. They should discourage such immoral behaviors in the workplace and practice good morals and ethical values in order to encourage ethical culture as role models in the organization.

Rewarding Ethical Behavior

Another important way for leaders to promote ethical culture is by rewarding good behavior in the workplace. One of the key roles of a leader is to motivate his followers. Employees can be motivated to behave ethically by identifying and rewarding ethical behaviors. For example, leaders may include ethics as part of their performance appraisal items and recognize employees who have obeyed various ethical values.


Organizational leaders have a big responsibility to establish and promote an ethical culture in their organizations. Leaders set the required ethical standards and values, and then create open communication to enhance shared ethical culture in the workplace.

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