The role and impact of leadership development in supporting ethical action in organisations

Ellen Van Velsor (Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA)
Evelina Ascalon (Credit Suisse, Zurich, Switzerland)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Publication date: 8 February 2008



This paper aims to argues that effective and well‐designed leadership development can help successful managers stay on the right path, in terms of ethical behaviour. In addition to reviewing key research findings on the factors that lead to success and derailment in European organisations, the paper discusses key aspects and outcomes of well‐designed leadership development initiatives and how those relate to the ethical issues and problems posed as “successful” managers move into more senior levels with the attendant demands and pressures.


The paper involves a qualitative analysis of data on learning and goals set and achieved as part of an international leadership development programme held in Europe. Also included is a summary of previously published research on European success and derailment factors, to provide context for the programme data.


What managers report learning in a leadership development programme, and the goals they set and achieve, are very much in line with theory on avoiding ethical failure in leadership roles. Leadership development supports ethical action by providing participants with opportunities for rich and comprehensive feedback, enhancement of self‐awareness, time to reflect on personal and professional relationships, and improved understanding of the nature of strategic processes.

Research limitations/implications

It was not possible to track actual ethical/unethical behaviour before or after the programme, a significant direction for future research.

Practical implications

Well‐designed leadership development may play a more important role than previously thought in supporting ethical action.


Ethical violations are often committed by people who have a history of good behaviour, but who are generally not well prepared to face complex issues and the increased power and privilege of the upper ranks. There is little known about the relationship between leadership development and ethical action, and this paper presents results that are provocative of what further research along these lines may produce.



Van Velsor, E. and Ascalon, E. (2008), "The role and impact of leadership development in supporting ethical action in organisations", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 187-195.

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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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