First-Class Leaders are Models of Ethics


08 May 2015

Many successful organizations have values such as: “Caring about our communities and our environment” (Whole Foods); “Full Disclosure and Transparency” (Rackspace); “Welcome feedback and help us improve” (TOMS Shoes); and, “It’s better to do one thing really, really well” (Google). Core values not only shape the culture of your organization, but they also inform your employees about the expected standards of behavior.

Establishing and sharing your organizational values is a good start. However, in order for these ethical standards to take root, they must be lived and modeled by your leadership. Modeling is a powerful leadership strategy that shows your employees—through your own words and actions—how you want them to behave. By demonstrating these desirable traits, your employees are more likely to emulate your behavior in their interactions with each other and with your customers.

Leadership Ethics Have Impact

One of the principal findings of the Ethics Resource Center’s National Business Ethics Survey is that modeling of ethical behavior by leaders sets a good example of desired business behavior in others. When employees perceive that their leaders are ethical and acting with integrity, they themselves:

• Feel less pressure to compromise their own ethical standards

• Are less likely to engage in misconduct

• Are more satisfied with their organization overall

• Feel more valued as employees

Here are a few key ways you can incorporate modeling ethics into your leadership style:

• Always treat all employees with the utmost respect. Avoid the appearance of favoritism. Regardless of differences, positions, titles, ages, or other types of distinctions, always treat your team with professional respect and courtesy. If you treat each employee differently, you will send mixed messages.

• Be clear about what your expectations are. As a leader, you need to spell out exactly what is expected of your employees when it comes to ethical behavior. Demonstrate your commitment to organizational standards by having meetings and open discussions where ethics and integrity are a focal point. Additionally, share the reasoning behind certain decisions with your employees, emphasizing the ethical criteria used to make the decision. Constant reinforcement and communication helps to drive the point home and keep it on the forefront.

• Recognize your employees for ethical conduct. There are lots of ways to recognize employees for above and beyond service, but look for ways to incorporate ethical behavior into your recognition programs. This will help reinforce desired behavior for everyone.

Values Should Be Reinforced

Studies show that employees are more likely to continuously make right choices if management demonstrates its on-going commitment to ethics.

Senior leaders at The Ritz-Carlton play a key role in modeling the Gold Standards and Values of The Ritz-Carton. The business ethics training program, “How We Do Business Is As Important As The Business We Do,” is a required part of orientation for employees of The Ritz-Carlton. The discussion of ethics begins there, but it is sustained and reinforced through the words and actions of leadership. Values are discussed each day at Line-Up, a meeting held daily at Ritz-Carlton hotels around the world.


When your employees witness managers acting with integrity and showing ethical responsibility, your organizational values will go from being noble ideas to accepted benchmarks that guide employees’ behavior.

Wanna share this post? Here are some ready-made tweets:


Leadercast is on a mission to fill the world with leaders worth following through world-class leadership events, content solutions and resources to grow the impact of leaders everywhere. Learn more at

Subscribe to our newsletter