14 Advantages and Disadvantages of Ethical Leadership Styles

Ethical leadership styles create a set of positive standards which lead toward a supportive and honest work environment. These standards are designed to reduce the changes that a lawsuit occurs within the workplace, creating job security for all those involved.

Ethical leadership styles are built upon a foundation of integrity. This type of leader only functions when they are doing the right thing, even when no one else is watching or may ever find out that something unethical occurred.

Every leader is going to make an ethical decision, even if they do not acknowledge that this is what they are doing at the time. When the framework is in place for every leader to make ethical decisions consistently, then you are in a place where you can accurately evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of an ethical leadership style for your workplace.

List of the Advantages of Ethical Leadership Styles

1. It ensures that you are following the law.
There are legal guidelines which are used to dictate the different decisions your company is able to make each day. A common example of this is a sexual harassment policy that is in effect at work because of laws which govern that sort of behavior. By having an ethical leadership style implemented, you are creating a system where the organization is following all local, state, and federal laws to ensure the safest possible work environment.

2. It helps to create a healthier workplace culture.
When there is an ethical leadership style in place for an organization, then it creates a healthier, more positive workplace culture. It creates an environment where each worker knows that they will be treated with respect. The environment is nurturing, encouraging, and focuses on building strong relationships between workers and the executive team. Over time, this creates better moral, lower employee churn, and a positive effect on worker productivity.

3. It creates an emphasis on being conscientious.
Ethical leaders are always conscientious. They are vigilant, careful, and thorough with every decision they make. These leaders take their position seriously, wanting themselves and their direct reports to succeed as often as possible. At the same time, there is a focus on empowerment to ensure that the organization and its workers are able to continue growing. When the leader has a strong moral identity, this emphasis on being conscientious can be passed along to others.

4. It creates a workplace that is inclusive.
The ethical leadership style is naturally inclusive. These leaders are open to the opinions of others. They encourage people to voice an idea or an opinion to support the organization. The workplace for the ethical leader is diverse because the collaborative experiences from different cultures, identities, and ethnicities is what makes a team stronger. To create this benefit, the leader must be educated in and be accepting of the differences that are found in people today. It is the ideas that are criticized, not the people in this leadership style.

5. It creates a culture of accountability.
Ethical leaders strongly desire respect. These leaders also treat the responsibility of their position very seriously. It is a simple philosophy: you do what you say you are going to do, or you make it right if you do not. As a leader, there must be responsibility for the actions and decisions which occur. This leadership style places the implementation of standards at the highest of levels to ensure everything is above board.

6. It is a leadership style that seeks to minimize harm.
Ethical leaders are considerate in two specific ways. Their actions must include ways to find the least amount of harm possible within the workplace. It isn’t a decision between what is right or wrong. It is a decision between two rights or two wrongs. The leader is tasked with making the best possible situation. There is also the consideration of direct reports and stakeholders. An emphasis on equality is always present with this leadership style.

7. It creates a workplace that is consistent.
Ethical leadership styles must be consistent to be effective. If there is inconsistency in ethics, then the workplace is undermined by doubt. Laws, regulations, and rules are not seen as obstacles that should be bent or broken. These leaders, in fact, seek out ways to exceed the expectations that are placed upon them. There must be a system in place where each person is treated the same way when the same actions or decisions are taken.

8. It allows problems to be reported quicker.
With an ethical leadership style, issues that might not usually arise to become discussion points between direct reports and leaders are brought up more often here. That is no guarantee that trouble won’t find a company focused on ethics, but it does help issues to be recognized and reported on much faster.

List of the Disadvantages of Ethical Leadership Styles

1. It requires comprehensive support to be effective.
An ethical leadership style requires everyone to be on the same page, especially within the executive team. Once one leader decides to act in an unethical way, it creates a snowball that can be difficult to stop as it starts to roll downhill. More people will side with the unethical actions should they produce results because an ethical pursuit tends to involve more work than unethical ones. If someone looks the other way, the entire company can be undermined.

2. It is a costly leadership style to implement.
If an organization is pursuing an ethical leadership style, then they must develop, implement, and maintain a compliance program which meets the mission and vision. These programs can be very expensive to developed and they tend to take a lot of time to create. The policies of an ethics program must be continually reviewed and updated to represent evolving changes in the workplace as well. To oversee these programs, most agencies are required to hire an officer to manage the commitment to these resources.

3. It may have multiple definitions.
If you look at the structure of the global Christian church, you will find more than 50,000 different denominations all practicing their faith in some way. Each denomination has their own definition of what it means to follow the “true” faith. Each denomination is acting ethically, in their own way, based on their own definitions. The same is true within the workplace when an ethics leadership style is used. Each person has their own set of ethics that they believe are morally correct. There are times when these definitions are going to conflict with one another. There must be a process which helps people find common ground to prevent this issue from disrupting the organization.

4. It requires consistency without fail.
An ethical leadership style relies on individual consistencies to bring success to an organization. One person deciding to change their definition of ethics can create problems within the company. Some people might feel their work requires them to perform specific ethical obligations, while others may not feel the same way. That is why the emphasis on rules and structure is prevalent within this leadership style. People must match up their moral definitions to the responsibilities they are called to perform.

5. It is dependent upon a leader’s ability to influence others.
An ethical leadership style is dependent upon the ability of a leader to influence others. These leaders must be charismatic and inspiration to have direct reports want to follow them. That requirement may cause some workers to trust their leaders to an unhealthy extent, sometimes even forgetting about their humanity. Becoming blind to mistakes can be devastating if everyone feels like the ends will justify the means ethically.

6. It requires clarity at all times.
There is no room for confusion within the structures of the ethical leadership style. Communication must be open and honest without exception. That means more time is spent by workers ensuring that they are on the same page for a project. This leadership style encourages collaboration and eliminates silos, but without clarity, you can still have 5 different people working in 5 different ways without realizing it.

The advantages and disadvantages of ethical leadership styles are based on the potential outcomes that can be achieved. If it seems faster and cheaper to act unethically, then many people are inclined to do so. Ethics must be made to be profitable for it to be successfully implemented. It must be a long-term vision which includes opportunities for everyone. When this happens, it becomes possible to create a healthy, positive, and supportive workplace.

Author Biography
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.