The content, the body of literature, that contains the underlying principles and premises of the discipline of ethical leadership does not have to be created or invented.  It has been part of human traditions for thousands of years.  The history of ideas that has led to our present level of thinking about ethical behaviour and right action towards others and the planet is well established and recognized.

Contributions towards ethical thought are abundant from established areas of knowledge in philosophy, psychology, the religions and spirituality, leadership, science, the environmental movement, personal development, health and wellness, etc.  Only thoughtful choice and selection are required to pick out the very best information as examples.

This interdisciplinary approach to a knowledge base is in keeping with current thinking as the barriers and borders between disciplines break down and where joint projects across these lines are becoming the norm and are leading to the best results.

The task then in establishing the new discipline of ethical leadership is to select carefully across time and knowledge bases for seminal and useful material.  Of course, any selection will be only a fraction of the material available, but hopefully it will be sufficient to stimulate ethical thought and action and to encourage further research and study.

In choosing content, however, some essential parameters and principles regarding the practice of ethical leadership stand out.  Chief among these is to understand that ethical practice is universal and applies to relationships among all of humanity and between people and all living things, including the planetary systems that support life.  This means that the basic principle of not harming others for one's own benefit is a sacred universal principle and is not subject to cultural interpretation.  Respect for others in all their diversity and valuing the myriad relationships in the web of life underlies all right action.

The Principals of the Institute for Ethical Leadership, Dr. Desmond Berghofer and Dr. Geraldine Schwartz, are making a beginning in establishing ethical leadership as a discipline.  They invite contact to provide comments, suggestions, dialogue and ideas.

What are the threads we need to weave together to create the cloth of ethical leadership? Some suggestions with related texts follow.

Mind Map



The first thread is ethics.  Here we can draw on several approaches.  One is the spiritual approach to ethics as taught by the Dalai Lama (Ancient Wisdom: Modern World) with the focus on finding true happiness, which does not come from material things, but rather from inner peace and compassionate work for the benefit of others.

A second source of ethical thought is the philosophic approach, as summarized by Simon Blackburn in Being Good.  This is a more dispassionate approach, describing the problems of relativism, the benefits of utilitarianism, the evils of fascism, etc.

A third approach to ethics as right action is reflected in the work of Tom Morris (If Aristotle Ran General Motors), which relates the notion of happiness as something to be considered through four philosophic dimensions of truth, beauty, goodness and unity.

Another writer on ethics is Rushworth Kidder (How Good People Make Tough Choices) who offers a practical approach by focusing on moral dilemmas of right versus wrong and, more significantly, of right versus right.

The second thread in this new discipline is leadership.  Here we can draw on the work of Peter Kostenbaum (Leadership: The Inner Side of Greatness) and Robert Greenleaf (The Servant as Leader), supplemented by others, including Stephen Covey (Principle-Centered Leadership, Peter Senge et al (Presence), Margaret Wheatley (Finding Our Way), etc.  This thread introduces the concept of leadership as service, the empowerment and inspiring of others, achievement through collaborative effort, understanding of systemic relations, visioning, seeing parts in relation to the whole, etc.

A third thread comes from psychology bringing in empirical and theoretical work on relationships, health, the role of consciousness, etc.  Different concepts of intelligence, and, in particular, emotional intelligence and social intelligence as described by Daniel Goleman, would be related to ethics and leadership.

Another thread of the ethical leadership fabric is the understanding of reality as described by physics, cosmology and biology, which together provide a worldview placing human activity, and therefore the practice of leadership, in an evolutionary context.

Of the physical sciences, ecology deserves separate attention as a thread because of its focus on showing how the world of human activity is intimately linked to and circumscribed by the natural world.  Leadership that does not recognize and embrace this fundamental understanding could not be considered to be ethical leadership.

A thread from sociology that traces the development of concepts like human rights and individual and collective human relationships needs to be included.

Some treatment of history from the perspective of progress towards respect for the common good as opposed to individual and national conquest and aggrandizement should be included.

A thread from economics would describe how human activity has to be self sustaining and mutually beneficial in local, national and global contexts.  The current emphasis in industrial societies on gross domestic product as the measure of human progress would be challenged by a comprehensive concept of ethical leadership.

As much of human progress is nurtured and mirrored through the creative arts of literature, poetry, music art, etc., humanities and the arts should also be woven as a thread into the cloth of ethical leadership.

Spirituality as a thread links the content of all of the above to the age-old search for meaning and sense that humanity is guided, nurtured and grounded in a higher order of reality larger than all of our thought systems and material accomplishments.

Drs. Berghofer and Schwartz have also developed the Ethical Leadership Scales as part of the discipline of ethical leadership.  They draw in their content from many of the threads described above.

A variety of teaching methods at different levels and for different purposes are now being considered.  Facilitator Training (including an internship) is one example.  More in-depth study of the content could be directed to universities as a single course in the humanities, as a core course in leadership programs, and eventually as a full program at the graduate level for leaders in Business, Education, Health, etc.  The Principals invite contact to discuss this issue further.


BIBLIOGRAPHY (A Beginning List)

















Humanities and the Arts