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Explaining ethical failures of leadership

Terry L. Price (Assistant Professor, Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond, Virginia, USA)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 1 June 2000



When an ethical failure of leadership is exposed, we are often disposed to look for an explanation of the leader’s behavior, not an analysis of the moral status of what was done. On one such explanatory account, ethical failures are essentially volitional, not cognitive. Ethically fallen leaders knew that what they were doing was morally wrong but, nevertheless, were motivated to do it anyway. My thesis is that the volitional explanation of human immorality will not be sufficient to explain ethical failures of leadership. Simply applying the volitional explanation of human immorality to leadership contexts ignores the fact that leadership brings with it peculiar cognitive challenges that can lead to ethical failure. Specifically, leadership induces and maintains a leader’s belief that he is somehow excepted from the moral requirements that apply to the rest of us.



Price, T.L. (2000), "Explaining ethical failures of leadership", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 177-184.




Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

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