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How to Become an Ethical Leader

A modern business thrives on sustainable teams. These tips will help you become an ethical leader and keep your team going for years to come.

The role of a leader is no longer limited to the basic functions of management: planning, organizing, motivating, and controlling. Today, a leader must support their subordinates, be an example, and most importantly, set moral guidelines. In other words, they must be an ethical leader.

Dina Mostovaya is a business consultant and the founder of Mindset Consulting.
Photo: Dina Mostovaya, founder of Mindset Consulting | Courtesy Photo

What an employee wants from their employer has changed. In the modern workplace, it’s not only status and level of income that is important, but also a positive atmosphere to work in, manageable levels of stress and pressure, good relationships with superiors, and a strong corporate culture. That is why people would more likely agree to work for Adobe, which is in the 12th position of the Best Global Culture 2022 ranking than for companies whose sole focus is on profit.

Here are 5 key tips to become an ethical leader and grow your best team.


1. Establish general ethical principles

Unfortunately, many managers force subordinates not only to violate personal principles at work but also to do the exact opposite of the company’s values.

According to a study by The National Education Union, 63% of managers say they have been asked to do something contrary to their own ethical code at some point in their career. 43% of managers have been told to behave in direct violation of their organization’s own values statements, while 9% have been asked to break the law.

Of course, employees will not trust and respect a leader who forces them to violate the principles of their own ethics, their company, and especially not someone that asks them to do something unlawful.

The takeaway from this is to act with integrity. It is important for your team to see you as a responsible and principled leader who can be relied upon. You must be true to your word, as well as to the values and principles of the company.


2. Be calm and reserved

Many people say they like fun bosses, The kind of leader that can make small talk with an employee over coffee, crack a joke, and brush off difficulties. This type of person can probably manage a small team to a certain extent. But in a larger company, he will almost certainly run into trouble.

There is a certain degree of responsibility and professionalism that employees expect from those in charge. Trying to please and be known as “fun” can lead employees to see you as irresponsible. Because the “fun boss” often doesn’t take challenges seriously, employees themselves may become less responsible, turning up late to work, and neglecting work tasks.

Keeping a distance between yourself and your team is normal. This lets employees know that you are there for their professional benefit and that they can rely on you when needed. It’s also good for your company because it helps to ensure employees do not take their jobs lightly.

Ethical leadership is all about healthy, friendly yet working relationships. From time to time, everyone may enjoy working in a less formal setting or working for a leader who knows how to be at ease. But when the company is in crisis, employees want to see a calm and reserved leader who knows how to fix the situation. Giving your team a sense of confidence is what ethical leadership is all about.


3. Teach employees to not be easily offended by feedback

Sometimes employees don’t do their job well. People may burn out, worry about problems in their personal lives, or simply lose motivation. The job of a leader is to control the quality of the work of the team. If an employee did a bad job and you must let them know, make sure that they do not take it personally.

All your employees must understand that you are not dissatisfied with the person, but with the work. Otherwise, your comments will generate resentment, hamper team members’ professional growth, and ultimately increase staff turnover. Explain to employees that corrections are necessary for the business and for their own development. Career advancement is impossible without improving skills and work that needs to be done better.


4. Reward employees for engagement

If an employee works overtime, constantly offers valuable ideas for everyone, and demonstrates a strong commitment to work — do not leave it unrecognized. An ethical leader must carefully monitor work processes and fairly evaluate the efforts of employees.

If subordinates see that one of the team members works very hard and does not receive a promotion, bonus, or verbal encouragement from the top manager, they will lose motivation to develop and will consider you unfair. Even strong specialists in such a situation can start working carelessly or try to find a new job in which their extra efforts will be appreciated.


5. Arrange one-on-one meetings with employees

Members of larger teams can often feel neglected, especially junior members. If a manager only pays particular attention to the senior team, and/or fails to remember the names of junior employees, junior team members can lose motivation and a sense of trust in their leader.

An ethical leader is always attentive to the people who work in their team. To prevent team members from feeling abandoned, set aside time for one-on-one meetings with employees. During the meeting, you can discuss the career plans and development of that person, their ideas for the company, the results of their work, and the possibility of promotion.

If employees understand they are important to you and you pay attention to them, they will work diligently to justify your trust. This is how ethical leadership helps inspire people to achieve new things.


Dina Mostovaya is a business consultant and the founder of Mindset Consulting. For 15 years, she has been helping technology companies and startups develop and implement strategic communications in the US and across Europe. Dina is a member of the Global Women in PR Association and the TEDxWaterStreet’s Advisory Board, and a Judge of The International Business Awards 2022 by Stevie Awards. In 2020, she was shortlisted for the Impact Award by GWPR. In 2022, she was named the bronze winner of the international Davos Communications Awards 2022 in the Best Woman in PR. 


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