WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS NEEDED FOR ETHICAL LEADERSHIP?
By Dr Janette Minnaar-van Veijeren, Founding Director of ProEthics
It is very true that we need ethical leaders in politics and in business, but WHY do we need ethical
leaders and WHAT defines an ethical leader? Which qualities are needed to not only be ethical
as a person but also to promote ethical behaviour amongst those that one leads?
The American leadership guru, Dr Ken Blanchard, defines leadership as “the ability to teach or
influence the thoughts, behaviour and development of others”. If a person cannot put his/her trust
in a leader, it is very unlikely that he/she would do what the leader asks. To gain this trust with
one’s followers, it is paramount that a leader must have integrity. In other words, the leader must
be known as a person who keeps his/her promises. Leaders with integrity are trusted.
In addressing a social investing conference on the 11th of April 2016, South Africa’s Chief Justice,
Mogoeng Mogoeng, justly said that ethics aren’t optional when it comes to leadership and that our
country can only move forward if leaders do the right thing. Mogoeng quoted the words of
Montgomery van Wart in defining what integrity is and the qualities possessed by such persons of
character. Prof Van Wart, Director of the Centre of Public Service at Texas Tech University,
defines integrity as “the willingness to talk the truth, being consistent, treating others the way one
would like to be treated oneself, using the necessary discernment in taking decisions, striving for
excellence in all one does and showing remarkable candour”. A high level of conscientiousness is
demonstrated by persons of integrity and they will follow through on promises and show unusual
astuteness (wisdom) in meeting competing interests.
Justice Mogoeng describes the characteristics of a person with integrity as someone who follows
through on commitments, is fair in all dealings, acts with wisdom and applies diligence in all
he/she does. He believes that a leader with integrity will be able to influence, inspire, direct,
mobilise, encourage and activate his/her followers to pursue a common goal with commitment
while keeping momentum, confidence and courage.
The South African Constitution starts with the following phrase: “We, the people of South Africa
recognise the injustices of our past …”. Justice Mogoeng believes that it is only through ethical
leadership that these recognised injustices can be remedied. The divisions of our past cannot be
healed when leaders do not keep their promises and only serve their own interests. Our business
leaders should govern their company affairs in such a way that a meaningful contribution is made
to change our country for the better (to serve the greater good). It is clear that there is no room for
unethical leadership and corruption. If leaders are dishonest, their followers will do the same.
Being unethical as a leader violates the principles of, and the reason for the Constitution.
Integrity is a characteristic that all leaders should possess and their values are the standards they
must live up to in all they do. Without integrity inside and outside the workplace, no leader will be
trusted and the very essence of leadership, namely to influence, motivate and inspire others
cannot be achieved. Being ethical and having integrity is non-negotiable.