Ethical Leadership Can Still Be Bad Management

We're so into ethical behavior these days, there's a whole popular TV series about it. Consumers want ethical products; vacationers want ethical tourism. But at the office, while it's more important than ever to stave off corporate malfeasance, ethical leadership isn't a direct route to good leadership.

New research from Baylor University suggests that a manager who subscribes to ethical behavior in the workplace might still wreak havoc on employees. If workers are already feeling stressed out by supervisors and job hindrances, throwing in a rigidly ethical boss can lead to "employee deviance and turnover." In short, if employees feel that a manager is more committed to ethical leadership than actually supporting the team, they will find shortcuts to support themselves no matter what.

Previously published research has indicated that ethical employees more readily throw themselves into their work for an employer they believe shares their values. But this is less about institutions and more about individuals. "Ethical leadership can be an exacting process of sustaining high ethical standards, ensuring careful practice and enforcement of all rules, and meeting leaders' lofty expectations," the Baylor researchers write, "all of which can consume time and energy and be perceived by employees as overly demanding or an obstacle to job performance."

The answer, of course, isn't to slack off. The Baylor team urges managers to practice clear, efficient communication, and to find a balance between lofty goals and available resources. It's always good to lead by example, but that will mean the most when you give your colleagues the space and the means to do the same.