Case Study: Identifying Ethical Code and Issues in Leadership

Ethics have been research topics for over 2500 years, dating back to the time of Socrates and Plato. While many ethicists now consider emerging ethical beliefs to be values that guide how one ought to behave, many philosophers consider ethics to be the “science of conduct.” The duration of ethical code over time has changed in perception, although recent scholars and practitioners continue to place a high value on ethics in the organization – maybe higher values than ever before.

Organizational ethics are standards that govern an organization’s behavior. These standards can apply directly to an organization, or even to an industry at large. Many organizational leaders find codes of ethics to be the most effective way to encourage ethical organizational behavior. A leader must establish, communicate, and support such a code through his or her organization’s overall climate.

It is the expectation about ethical behavior that often signifies a broader standard. According to Schermerhorn, Hunt & Osborn (2000), “Ethical behavior conforms not only to the dictates of law but also to a broader moral code that is common to society as a whole.” The societal code of conduct usually parallels the written laws, but sometimes the ethical code of a human sector can simply be invisibly instilled through generations of teaching and preaching.

Review of “Organizational Behavior” by Schermerhorn, Hunt & Osborn

As an authority, author and researcher Hunt Schermerhorn made a connection between moral and amoral behavior in an organization through ethics mindfulness in the leadership that was involved. It is very important that leaders understand that their followers must gain insight into their ways of thinking and the behaviors they are likely to engage when working with others.

Summary of Schermerhorn’s understanding

The general definition of Schermerhorn’s understanding was, “Ethical behavior conforms not only to the dictates of law but also to a broader moral code that is common to society as a whole”. In one of his particular compilations, Schermerhorn, et al. identifies “four ways of thinking about ethical behavior in and by organization” (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2000).

The Utilitarian view

Utilitarianism derives its meaning from the word utility and, when used to describe a form of ethics, it speaks of an act that is weighed by its moral worth. The utilitarian ethical philosophy opposes principled philosophies that allow the conscience to decide right and wrong. It also opposes philosophies that decide the righteousness of an act based on its contribution to happiness or pleasure for its doer. The total outcome of this view is often measured by the phrase “the greatest good for greatest number of people”.

The Individualism view

The golden rule ethical philosophy emerged in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and teaches that everyone should “love your neighbor as yourself.” This philosophy’s central tenant is that an individual should be as humane as possible and never harm others through insensitive actions. An off-shoot from the individual perspective, Christianity teaches that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God gives justification for protecting and promoting human dignity. It has been said by various authorities that, “to be a good person, one must take ethics seriously” (Hausman & McPherson, 1993).

The Moral Rights view

Absolute moral law was a philosophy that stresses it is a crucial moral duty that trumps individual desire in producing a humanitarian society based on reason. This theory argues that right is never wrong and must be accomplished under any circumstances. Consistency is the key, and once a guideline is determined for an action or idea, all behaviors and beliefs must always be applied in accordance.

It was the late 1970s that brought about a view of ethics that left them no place in the business world. It was proven, over time, that “business ethics served a needed social and business function” and through this realization the public opinion has embraced, developed, and largely integrated business ethics into the majority of corporations (DeGeorge, 2000).

The Justice View

This philosophy was developed to give an alternative perspective to utilitarianism, and was also referred to as the veil of ignorance. Under this viewpoint, all people are equal; therefore, no class of people is entitled to unique advantages over any others. It usually emphasizes the importance of moral argument, especially in political thinking.

Relation of my organization’s ethical code to Schermerhorn’s view

My organization’s ethical code speaks to discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship that tends to produce great results. This belief is more in line with the Moral Rights view expressed by the popular author, John R. Schermerhorn, (et al.), a chief authority in the study of ethics and ethical behavior.

In a similar vein, just as the business leaders of today manage diversity, not only because it “makes good business sense as a strategic imperative”, but also because it addressed legal and moral issues as well (Schermerhorn, Hunt & Osborn, 2000).

I believe that my organization’s ethics code subscribes to the Moral Rights particular view, because issues regarding the moral rights and duties between the company, its contractors, and its shareholders are the driving forces that “ensure delivery of quality products and services to the warfighter”.

Responsibilities and privileges of leaders

Leaders will frequently have special relationships with an in-group of assistants and subordinates, who get high levels of responsibility and access to resources. Characteristics of the in-group often include empathy, patience, sensitivity, and responsibility. In-group employees work harder, are more committed to task objectives, and share more administrative functions. In return, they are expected to be completely committed and loyal to their leader. They are mostly considered the trusted associations of the leader.

Leadership skills impact vision, organizational effectiveness, and strategy. The examination and comparison of the key aspects of the Leader-Member Exchange (LME) Theory showcased leaders’ responsibilities and privileges – their use, authority and power – which provided an opportunity to think strategically and comprehensively about leadership.

“The changing demographics of today’s workforce make managing diversity effectively a key strategic issue for organizations. The premise of the current research is that leadership-specifically, inclusive forms of leadership-is critical for successfully leveraging diverse human capital. In addition to the moral argument for developing an inclusive work environment, the results of the present research suggest that inclusive leaders can also help the bottom line” (Nishii & Mayer, 2009).

Expected ethical decision making process

The process of guiding others can begin with sharing vision and strategy with all in the organization. Strategy can focus on the areas of change; for example, a change in the dress code or the work environment can initiate a cultural change that can introduce an ethical philosophy into the picture. This chain of events regularly influences the decision-making processes of today’s American organizational leaders. As leaders face crises regularly, they need to practice ethical and moral decision making and consider the needs of employees, customers, stakeholders, shareholders, and even the community.

Consideration of gender issues in leadership

Women-versus-men as leaders is a catch-22, at best. Most authorities are bound by the very same diversity, ethics, and gender issues that leadership must succumb to and handle. Therefore, the studies that are most often cited state the conclusion of their research as showing that male and female leaders are equally effective. Still, women are less likely to be pre-selected as leaders, and followers often evaluate the same leadership behavior higher for men than women (Kolb, J. 1997, p 504).

Regardless of researchers’ support of or opposition to gender relation theories in organizational development, sexuality continues to influence organizational control and organizational leaders must accept its role in organizational growth. Leaders can help foster gender sensitivity within their companies. Organizational leaders will need to assess their environments and be aware of developments that affect ever-changing gender-related concerns.

Brief review of the culture

Leaders need to deal with two major cultural aspects on a daily basis: organizational culture and cultural diversity. Applying a “multidimensional assessment” (Ruiz-Palomino & Martínez-Cañas, 2014) and carefully adopting strategies to manage these types of culture has a significant place in today’s workforce. Organizational culture is a unifying force that strongly appeals to entire organization and is the sum total of the organizational image. With more and more organizations going global, cultural diversity is fast becoming commonplace in most organizations.

Possible obstacles gender may have on effective leadership

Many of the traditional ways of talking and thinking about leadership can continue to mask the strengths women bring to being successful as leaders. The results of some studies show that with or without early career support, women have accomplished extraordinary achievements in their respective fields. What is important to keep in the leadership mind is that it is the leaders’ own tenacity and optimism that play an important role in their accomplishments – any other traits, especially visible ones, are secondary and usually irrelevant.


DeGeorge, R. (2000). Business Ethics and the Challenge of the Information Age. Business Ethics Quarterly, 10(1), pp. 63-72.

Hausman, D. & McPherson, M. (June 1993). Taking Ethics Seriously: Economics and Contemporary Moral Philosophy. Journal of Economic Literature, (31)2 (Jun. 1993), pp. 671-731;

Kolb, J. (1997). Are we still stereotyping leadership? Small Group Research, 28(3), 370-371.

Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2008). Leadership Challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc. (Wiley).

Nishii, L., & Mayer, D. (2009). Do Inclusive Leaders Help to Reduce Turnover in Diverse Groups? The Moderating Role of Leader-Member Exchange in the Diversity to Turnover Relationship. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(6), 1412-1426. Retrieved from Business Source Premier database.

Northouse, P. (2007). Leadership: Theory and Practice (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.

Ruiz-Palomino, P., & Martínez-Cañas, R. (2014). Ethical culture, ethical intent, and organizational citizenship behavior: The moderating and mediating role of person-organization fit. Journal of Business Ethics, 120(1), 95-108.

Schermerhorn, Jr., Hunt, J., & Osborn, R. (2000). Organizational behavior. (7th Ed.). NY: John Wiley and Sons Inc. Retrieved December 13, 2009, from Argosy Online L7101 XB: Foundations in Leadership Document Sharing and

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