Ethical Leadership: Models for Culturally Approved Leadership

Ethical leadership is a broad concept that covers the topics of leadership, management and human resources. In the literature, there are approaches to conceptualizing cross-cultural leadership at different levels.

Earley and Ang (2003) consider mainly the level of individual interactions between representatives of different cultures in the course of negotiations, dialogue, and others. organizational communications.

They determine the factors (pathways) through which culture influences leadership behavior at this level.

The five factors are: a) individual competencies, b) the team, c) the organization, d) the overall context and e) the specific situation.

At the global, international level, the results of the international project GLOBE (short for Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness) are extremely useful – a research “enterprise” that brings together hundreds of scientists and tens of thousands of managers from over 60 countries.

This project aims to determine the relationship between cultural values ​​and effective leadership behavior.

Implications can be found in it, explaining the ethical diversity of cultures, and hence the various cultural patterns of moral leadership.

The Global Leadership Survey provides a comprehensive overview of surveys of managers and organizations around the globe (17,000 managers surveyed), grouped into more than 20 key competency metrics.

They form groups of leadership competencies of the leader, and dimensions of global leadership.

An explanation of the relationship between cultural dimensions (for example, the familiar individualism-collectivism; male values ​​- female values; power distance, attitude to uncertainty, if we follow the model of value differences between Hofstede cultures) and culturally approved leadership traits.

Of interest is also the conceptual model explaining the factors and ways in which culture influences the effective leadership of organizations.

The proposed scheme illustrates, albeit linearly, the “maze” of the impact of cultural factors on the leader such as efficiency, qualities, and behavior in normal and unforeseen circumstances.

This specifies the general labeling of the leader and his ethical or unethical behavior. Defining moral leadership at all or only one-dimensionally is insufficient.

According to the results of the Global Leadership project, there are different dimensions of the perception of culturally approved, according to the outlined scheme, implicit leadership. These dimensions are based on:

Charismatic / value-based leadership – characterized by integrity and holism, is performance-oriented, the leader is a visionary, inspiring, dedicated, and willing to sacrifice, but can also be “culturally justified” in the traits of toxic, autocratic, and a powerful leader.

Teamwork – the leader is expected to be a diplomat, competent to administer, maintain cooperation, and integrate into the team.

A leader who does not have this ability is toxic, he would be alienated from the people he leads, even angry with them, even if he seeks rapprochement with them in other ways.

Degree of self-defense – identification of the leader with his roles, forms of egocentrism, “loss of face”, alienation.

Involvement and participation – manifestations of non-autocratic behavior of a participant in a common process of work in support of those led by him (followers).

Humane attitude – manifested in modesty, compassion, and other culturally acceptable altruistic traits or “humanity”.

Autonomy – the leader can function without constant consultation and consultation with others. (Chokar, Brodbeck, 2008).

7. Specific sources of moral problems and their regulation in intercultural projects: the constructs “hypernorm” and “moral project”.

What moral grounds to step on when acting in another culture, “when ethics travel” if we use the title of T. Donaldson and W. Dunfee (Donaldson, Dunfee, 1999).

According to them, hypernorms are operating at the macro-social level, which is a guideline for adequate behavior in a culture other than one’s own. The Council is to adhere to the following:

Check whether the given cultural practice is authentic and legitimate (ie widely accepted and following hypernorms).

Follow legitimate local customs whenever possible.

In a controversial situation, give priority to norms and practices originating from the larger group.

Hypernorms are pragmatized in advice, incl. – and to the leader of multicultural teams and projects:

1. Apply ethical standards equally to all markets, divisions, and employees. If a country has the policy to follow certain rules, be prepared to review projects in markets with unfavorable ethical climates. Answer politely and respectfully if you need to refuse.

Do not act arrogantly or mockingly when you do not accept unethical proposals: just explain that the company’s code of ethics prohibits this behavior and that you would like to keep your business relationship for the future. Make sure managers understand your commitment to ethical standards after such cases.

2. Take into account the unique ethical climate of each market when drafting your code of ethics. Adherence to it should be a priority for managers and the board of directors to set an example to others in the organization.

Create rules, especially in activities with intensive international contacts. Ask managers to justify their ethical decisions in foreign markets following this code to ensure that they take it seriously.

3. Follow local customs at your discretion. Decide on a case-by-case basis when you plan to disregard local traditions due to possible harm.

However, adhere strictly to a code of ethics when dealing with humanitarian and environmental issues.

Use your discretion on matters such as bribery or salaries of local employees. (For example, you may decide to offer monetary gifts to government officials in a country where there is no other reasonable way to enter the market, but not to enter the market if the raw materials are obtained through suppliers who use illegal labor).

4. Conduct regular ethical cross-cultural training for the entire company in addition to ethics training programs for new employees.

Use emergency workshops to highlight emerging problem areas, citing new examples whenever possible (Smith, Peterson, Thomas, 2008).

In addition to the level of hypernorms and rules, in cross-cultural communication, there are critical areas (sensitive areas) in which moral leadership is threatened and needs focused attention, special knowledge, and regulation.

A source of problems in working on an international project, for example, is planning, important in the perspective of managing differences over time.

Let us argue the criticism of this question with the phrase attributed to B. Franklin: “If you fail in planning, you plan to fail.” A specific reason for “discrepancies”, even in ultra-fast electronic communications, is the frequent start of work on a project before its authorization and formalization.

Ethical issues and the development of relationships in a multicultural team could be understood and improved through the “moral project” construct introduced by D. Hart.

It highlights moral work, moral character, moral episodes, and moral examples, useful for more precise structuring and management of relationships (Hart, 1994).

Moral design is related to leadership as a service and the figure of the leader as a servant, according to the not quite eloquent translation in scientific publications and our country of the term servant leadership.

Ethical leadership as a service could be adequately interpreted from the perspective of norms and role behavior in the ethics of care.

There are special “sensitive areas” for cross-cultural business ethics and ethical leadership.

They are not only related to the usual discrepancies between activities, integrity, honesty, level of trust, the notion of justice, moral character, and virtues of people from different cultures.

There are subtle behaviors that can compromise the ethical leadership of an international project (team).


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One of the first monographs on this issue (Kleim, 2012) highlights the following particularly “sensitive areas” in international project work:

Manipulative non-informing and misinforming the participants about the work;

“Soft” (hidden and unprovable) sabotage of the work or parts of it;

Belittling someone’s contributions, “smearing” someone’s inclusion in the crowd, which is difficult and unprofitable to disclose.

There are also specific psychological states that can become a source of additional ethical problems in the business communication of an intercultural team:

Dissatisfaction with the fact that things do not happen “as a textbook”, learned and planned working schemes more often turn out not to work;

Additional tension and organizational stress from the expectation of being a successful team player;

Internal conflicts are dictated by the desire to agree with the other to quell disagreements and conflicts in the bud;

Need to maintain good relationships with diverse stakeholders (participants): partners and managers, subordinates and competitors, young and old, women and men.

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