15 Key Characteristics of the Ethical Leadership Style

Being a leader in any organization requires a broad understanding of how to manage people, and the principles of ethics are closely related to strong leadership. Ethical leadership can be the difference between an organization that stays true to its core values and one that breaks apart and fails. By taking the time to embody these 15 ethical leadership characteristics, you will be able to take your business to the next level.

1. Moral
When it comes time to be a leader, knowing the difference between what is right and what is wrong is essential to running your business. Having a character that uses moral reasoning to make decisions ensures that you and those working for you are comfortable doing what needs to be done.

Ethics and morals can often seem like the same thing, but morals are the principles that drive and guide you when you need to make tough choices. People who look up to you to make decisions will look to see that you are making moral choices that most people would deem to be ethical.

2. Fair
Having standards that you want a business to achieve is a great way to make sure you are hitting goals and deadlines. However, you want to make sure that your goals are fair and reasonable for what can realistically be done. Nobody wants to work for someone who treats them unfairly.

To be fair to your employees, you want to put yourself in their shoes and think about how you would feel being asked to do something unreasonable or excessively difficult. Treating people with fairness will keep you working ethically and your employees working productively.

3. Honest
As many people say in the business world, honesty is the best policy. Being honest as a leader means telling the truth to those you work with on what needs to be done and what isn’t going so well. A workplace that is built on honesty will keep secrets and unethical behavior at bay.

Being honest with yourself as to what you need to take care of and improve upon will also make you a better leader.

4. Open
Being an open leader can have many meanings and each one is crucial to success. Being open to change and new ideas means that something you never even considered before could be just what your team needs to start seeing great results.

On the other hand, being open with workers on what is going well and what is hurting the company will make everyone feel ready to make changes based on ethical needs.

5. Integrity
Integrity is often a very internal characteristic that separates the good from the great. Living a life of integrity means acting in accordance with ethical behaviors even when nobody is looking. What you do in private and off the record is often how most people will judge your character.

Integrity can also ebb the driving force behind doing what needs to be done even if you don’t feel like doing it. Making ethical decisions in life and for the company without praise and recognition shows your true colors.

6. Driven
A leader without a drive is like a boat with no captain. If you are not internally driven to make the best out of what you have, then you are not moving your workers forward to better things and are essentially a stranded ship. Having the drive to push your company will keep you miles ahead of slacking competition.

Your drive for success must come from within or else you will simply be chasing dollar signs and stock prices. Ethical leaders will want to keep pushing the limits of their company without caring about the money or glamour at the end of the journey.

7. Just
When you enter into a courtroom, you expect decisions to be made with justice and rational decisions. In your workplace, you must be a just leader so that people can have a baseline to judge what is and isn’t tolerated.

If you fail to set boundaries and give out unjust punishment, it falls on your lack of an ethical foundation that doomed the company from the very start. Establishing rules and sticking to them allows everyone to feel within reasonable boundaries and not feel singled out.

8. Respectful
Being a respectful leader means many things, but you must be sure to follow all of them to be successful. Giving respect to others can come in many forms and it really just comes down to respecting what others have to say and making them feel that their voices are being heard.

Respecting those you don’t always agree with may be a challenge but giving your respect to others will see it returned to you tenfold. You want a team that feels listened to and respected rather than just a bunch of followers who feel left out of decision making.

9. Trustworthy
If you hold someone to a promise, then you are putting your full trust in them and their word for getting a job done. An ethical leaders’ word is the same as their signature and you must be a trustworthy leader to have loyal followers. If your workers don’t trust you then they will do anything to undermine you.

Trust comes in many forms and tasks but keeping true to your word and values will see people learning to trust and respect your character in no time.

10. Focused
Sometimes all people want from their leaders is someone who can just put their head down and work without getting distracted. A focused leader is an effective leader as you know what needs to be done and take the necessary steps to get there. Similar to your drive, focus must come from within.

People have a tendency to emulate those who they follow, so your level of focus will end up inspiring others to work with a focus like you. Limiting distractions through communication will help keep you focused, and an efficient workplace is balanced when all members have the focus required to win.

11. Firm
While you certainly want to be fair and considerate with your workers, you also must hold firm to your values as well as the values of the company. If you sway from the ethics and morals of what you feel to be right, then you open up the possibility for future issues and will only be exploited in the future.

Being firm does not mean being cruel, but sometimes you will have to make hard choices when something comes up that goes against your ethical code. Leaders are not often made making easy decisions, but the best leaders arise from making the hard ones.

12. Understanding
Being a leader will often require you to make hard decisions and being able to understand that everyone is human will have your followers feeling more comfortable. Being understanding of the struggles and limitations of others will allow you to come across as more understanding than a harsh leader.

As an added benefit, you being more understanding of others also means that other people take better to your own shortcomings if they arise. Being an understanding leader will help bring all your other positive characteristics together to let others further respect you.

13. Dignity
Your own dignity that determines how you feel and act will show itself in times of victory and defeat. Even though most of these tips help you in working with others, having a sense of dignity will allow you to feel certain in yourself in times of decision making.

14. Consistent
Consistency is key when looking to run a business. People expect their leaders to be consistent in their decision making and values. An ethical leader will always strive to be consistent with their actions when making important decisions.

15. Loyal
Finally, the characteristic of loyalty helps keep you leading ethically in challenging times. Being loyal to your workers and company will give people the hope they need to work hard knowing that you will always have their back.


With so many characteristics to implement into your own leadership strategy, there are many ways to take a look at your own leadership actions and find ways to make them more ethical. All it takes is some will power from you to turn your operations into an ethical and efficient system.

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.