According to the study titled The Influence of Ethical Reasoning on Leader Effectiveness: An Empirical Study of NonProfit Executives, “Much theoretical and normative evidence supports the notion that leaders are the primary influencers of ethical conduct within their organizations … and set the moral tone and are responsible for the set of ethics or norms that governs employees’ behavior on behalf of the organization.”
Ethics are objective standards of right and wrong, agreed upon by a group, which comprise fair treatment of others, values, virtues, moral obligations and responsibilities. Groups function better when ethical standards are agreed upon and abided because they contribute to the well-being of individuals and the cohesion and goals of the group. Without established ethics in an organization and leaders who understand how to apply ethical reasoning, the organization’s performance is in jeopardy. For this reason, one of the most important functions of a society and its universities is to properly develop future leaders with ethical reasoning skills and the ability to inspire and direct others.
What Is Ethical Reasoning in the Context of Engineering Leadership?
Ethical reasoning is a form of critical thinking that uses learned frameworks in order to assess ethical issues from a variety of perspectives and develop arguments to support ethical standards. Because engineering is a collaborative field — and because leaders have the power to influence, reward and punish behaviors — ethical reasoning is an indispensable ability for managers and executives.
Of course, properly socialized individuals bring their own behavioral standards to an organization, but with various personal influences from parents and subcultures, ethical precepts are not universal. Furthermore, situational ethics are not always clear, especially when competing ideas conflict and professionals find themselves in moral quandaries. Effective leaders, consequently, must bring a core set of ethics including justice, fairness, respect, integrity, responsibility and transparency to guide their subordinates and lead by example. They must understand how to apply these ethics in specific scenarios common to their business operations and also communicate their reasoning for organizational buy-in.
Demonstrating ethical leadership is not always easy, as leaders find themselves in vulnerable positions and can be harshly judged when they make mistakes. Nonetheless, they must be able to assume responsibility for their followers, defend others acting in accordance with organizational standards,
raise unpopular concerns, send consistent signals, admit their mistakes and take corrective actions. All of these positive behaviors have a trickle-down effect throughout the organization.
How Do Ethics Impact an Organization?
When an employer has exemplary leaders, from the C-suite down to middle management, there are a handful of positive outcomes MBA graduates can expect to see.
From entry-level employees to organizational leaders, ethical reasoning builds positive employee morale. When solid ethics are in place, people feel good about coming to work every day and feel they belong. They trust their coworkers to have their best interests in mind and work with a collaborative, reciprocal spirit. Employees share knowledge and support one another in times of crisis. They are loyal to their companies and choose to stay, while competitive organizations may have lower employee retention. Above all, employees appreciate how the organization’s ethical leaders helped to create these positive outcomes.
The benefits of leaders with ethical reasoning capabilities cascade outside of the organization as well, to stronger relationships with customers and the local community. The company brand gains strength because the traditional media tells positive stories, and employees share their positive experiences through social media platforms. Investors are attracted to the organization, the market feels confident in company leadership and the market capitalization grows. Top talent is drawn to the organization and this positive cycle generates long-term momentum.
Learn to Be an Ethical Leader
Leaders must decide to become ethical consciously. Without awareness of the benefits and challenges, it is too easy to become distracted and develop bad habits. The Henderson State University Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Engineering Management online program develops ethical leaders. The core Managerial Leadership and Ethics course forms a foundation of understanding ethical leadership styles in management and provides practice in developing ethical reasoning. This consistent emphasis is one of the reasons why top employers in Arkansas and across the country value HSU program graduates.
Learn more about the Henderson State University MBA in Engineering Management online program.