Sample Essay on Ethical Leadership

Ethical Leadership


Organizational culture is an important aspect in many organizations. By developing a sound organization culture, firms can mold employees into what they feel best suits the mission, vision, and goals the organization is trying to achieve. At the center of a sound organization culture is sound leadership that not only believes in the mission and vision of the organization but also works, as an example to the employees, towards the achievement of organizational goals (Freeman & Stewart 2006). Such leaders are not quick to judge and dismiss employees, but provide necessary tools to the employees towards the achievement of the organizational goals. At the time of hiring, leaders in such organizations inform new recruits what the organization expects of them, and orientate and inculcate the culture into the recruits through training and a constant reminder of what the business stands for. Cardinal IG’s Fargo plant in Iowa is an example of an organization led by an ethical leader who has developed a sound organization culture. By helping in the construction of the plant, David Pinder had the opportunity to develop an organizational culture and philosophy aimed at establishing a successful plant. The success of the plant and its use as the flagship plant of the corporation attests to Pinder’s success as an ethical leader and in the creation of a sound organization culture, which has been an example to the rest of the corporation’s plants. This paper will look at Pinder’s work in Fargo, with particular interest in examining characteristics of ethical leadership in his decisions; the moral philosophies he used in the plant; the plants principles and values and their influence on employees’ behavior; and how the company has empowered its employees into practicing responsible and accountable leadership.

How David Pinder embraced ethical leadership to create an ethical culture at Cardinal IG

Brown and Trevino (2014) informs on the thinning public confidence in the ethics and integrity of leaders in government, business, and other institutions. The overall perception of such information is that ethical leadership is little, if lacking in the workplace and in government (Brown & Trevino 2014). The importance of the perception of ethical leadership is vital to an organization, as it has a rippling effect on the work and motivation of employees. Ethical leadership refers to a leader with a good character and right values (Freeman & Stewart 2006). This is, however, a simplistic look at ethical leadership, as it goes beyond the character of the leader. Freeman and Stewart (2006) contend that ethical leadership goes beyond the leader and descends to followers, the situations they face, the processes and skills possessed, and the eventual outcome. Freeman and Stewart (2006) further argue that even in their position as leaders, they (leaders) are leading stakeholders of the organization and as such, the actions they take must be tuned towards the benefit of the whole organization. By embodying the purpose, mission, and values of the organization and the followers, ethical leaders provide a link between organization goals with those of employees and other stakeholders.

In looking at Cardinal IG, David Pinder paints the picture of a manager who embraced and espoused principles of ethical leaderships towards the creation of an ethical organization culture. First in the step towards creating an ethical culture is creating an ethical climate. Shin (2011) states that an ethical climate is one that has a reflection of the employees’ perception of sound policies, practices, and dealings within the organization. In his first dealings with the company after his recruitment, Pinder created a plant philosophy, with organizational culture as key to this philosophy. In part, Pinder’s philosophy read, “I wanted a world-class facility-the best of its kind on the planet. The culture must enable you to get to the vision. I wanted my employees to love to come to work every day because the work was challenging, meaningful and fun; the plant was clean and well lit; they felt like they had ownership and a say in the business; they were treated with dignity and respect” (Legler & Leff 2012, p. 564-565). To summarize the importance of creating an ethical climate, Shin (2011) intimates, “Because the behaviors of employees of a firm are dictated by the same company policies, procedures, and code of ethics, they tend to hold similar perceptions of its ethical climate” (p. 300).

Another characteristic of an ethical leader is not only articulating the values and purpose of the organization but also embodying the values in his or her actions (Freeman & Stewart 2006). Pinder’s ethical philosophy is one that espouses love for work and one another. He walks the talk by his outright expression of love to employees. By knowing employees’ names, caring for their families, and showing personal interest in all the employees, Pinder is a true expression of an ethical leader who lives by his philosophy. By so doing, therefore, Pinder spreads this characteristic to his followers, ensuring continuity and real meaning in the philosophy that he preaches.

From the case, Pinder does not tolerate racism, sexism, and other vices, such as stealing, fighting, and drinking on the job. Moreover, he ensures that any problem is dealt with immediately it occurs as a means of arresting the vice at the onset and ensuring the smooth running of the plant (Legler&Leff 2012). Freeman and Stewart (2006) indicate that ethical leaders have a concern for the success of the business rather than their personal egos. Consequently, by not tolerating sexism or racism even in the form of jokes, and other vices, Pinder has a focus on organizational success, knowing that the presence of such seemingly trivialities can have a dilapidating effect on organizational performance.

Lu and Lin (2014) suggest that among the components of ethical leadership are subordinate empowerment and motivation as well as character building. Cardinal has a leadership training program that caters to all the employee needs. Training has been an integral part of Cardinal Fargo, considering that the first 40 employees who were inexperienced in glass making were trained on what glass-making involved (Legler &Leff 2012). The employees and divisional leaders have autonomy on their actions with an open door policy to the manager who takes suggestions on ways of improving the company’s performance. The extensive, formal, and informal training undertaken by the company ensures employee empowerment, motivation, and character building, as they help in building their confidence and competence.

Moral Philosophies used by David Pinder

Ethics determines the morality of actions that society believes. There are many philosophies of morality including teleology, deontology, relativist perspective, virtue ethics, and justice perspectives. All these moral philosophies have different approaches and perspectives to ethics. This paper will look at deontology and virtue ethics, and their relation to David Pinder in his dealings at Cardinal IG.

Deontology, also known as the duty-based theory, examines people’s actions without necessarily looking at the consequences of the actions.  Closely related to deontology is consequentialism, which contends that the rightness of an action is determined by the eventual consequence of the action (Ronzoni 2009). Deontology, therefore, argues for personal morality, insisting on the need to keep individual personal morality. It is the obligation under deontology to keep within the confines of morality and guard against moral taint by following universal rules of morality. Further, deontology emphasizes on the relationship between duty and morality. Thus, individuals are duty bound to practice morality for it is the right thing to do. Deontological arguments on the morality of an action consider the characteristic of the action, and not the result of the action. Thus, regardless of the results of stealing, lying or withholding the truth for the sake of saving a friend, deontology considers the action as wrong. Fronted by Immanel Kant, deontology holds that actions qualify as good only in the event that they hold good will, with the good will as acting in accordance with the moral laws and respect for the law rather than normal inclinations.

Bertland (2008) intimates the grounding of virtue ethics on the foundation of character rather than rules. At the center of virtue ethics is the belief that the virtue expressed or manifested by an individual is not just a tendency, but also a real character trait which the possessor has a predisposition. Thus, contrary to a habit, which most people learn, a virtue is multi-tracked in that it espouses other actions, such as choices, interests, beliefs, expectations, and emotions among others. This is in line with Jiyuan’s (2010) contention that ethics has a one-on-one influence on our living. Thus, the possession of a virtue even in the complexity of a virtuous person’s mindset has a great influence on the actions of the individual.

According to Bright, Winn and Kanov (2014), virtue ethics has an appeal because of its encouragement of good works, which are intellectually and morally worthy of praise, unrestricted, and positively deviant.  However, it does not qualify truth by an honest person, as only the acceptance and awareness by the honest person that not telling the truth would be dishonest defines virtue. Bright, Winn and Kanov (2014) further expound on virtue ethics by giving five characteristics of virtue ethics. Accordingly, they indicate that virtue is an internal property of an individual that offers the definitive goodness of humanity within the individual virtue. In this case, virtue has its foundations in the human character as expressed in thought, motivation, and emotion, through consistently morally excellent actions (Bright, Winn &Kanov 2014).

The second characteristic is the contention that virtue is a developed character; that indeed, humans have the capacity to develop virtues, and as such, virtues are not innate characteristics. In essence, Bright, Winn, and Kanov (2014) state that through personality development, humans can develop virtues to become a second nature as well as the will to act in virtuous ways that finally produce virtuous actions.

The third characteristic is the expression that virtue is the sum of a system of sound considerations and skills that come together to form an integrated whole (McIntyre 2007). This is as express by compassion, which not only looks at the needs of others in giving, but also considers the self. The expression of virtue as a system further has exemplification in a team sport whose success is not an attribution of the individual team members’ skills, but a combination of other external factors. These include the coach as supporters who come together as complementary pieces of a whole (Bright, Winn & Kanov 2014).

The fourth and the fifth characteristics deal with virtues as attentive to circumstances and producing good outcomes. An individual has to make a choice on what virtue to express within a given circumstance with the best possible outcome (Bright, Winn &Kanov 2014).

From the case, Pinder’s philosophy goes beyond divisional leaders to employees. Employees are trained to be independent and accountable to not only themselves but also for the members of their team (Legler&Leff 2012). Moreover, at the time of recruitment, employees must satisfy the four criteria of the willingness to work hard, have a good attitude, be team players, and have the willingness to support the mission. These are some of the morally acceptable actions for employees. These expectations adhere to the deontological principles of doing right and guarding against moral taint by adhering to the rules indicated by the company philosophy. By first inculcating the philosophy on the new employees, it is the expectation of the company that these philosophies will act as the guide for the employees, influencing their actions while working in the plant. Cardinal’s actions of inculcating the philosophy justify the choice of deontology as the moral philosophy guiding the daily company undertakings.

After recruitment and undergoing the extensive continual formal and informal training, it is the expectation of the company that the new recruits into the company not only believe in the company philosophy but also live by the philosophy. One of the characteristics of virtue ethics philosophy is that virtues are not innate, but individuals can learn them, making them their second nature. The choice of virtue ethics, thus, stems from the idea that by ensuring that employees undergo training at the time they are employed, and continue with the successive training, they can inculcate the virtues of the company philosophies in their daily dealings. The freedom to make decisions and the relative autonomy given to team leaders attest to the higher levels of virtue required to keep within the confines of organizational goals. The philosophy of virtue ethics provides an explanation to the continued success of the plant even with such relative autonomy. It follows that the leadership and the employees act on the fourth and fifth characteristics of the philosophy of virtue ethics where they use their proper judgment to different circumstances according to company goals, and in so doing produce good outcomes.

How has Cardinal’s principles and values shaped the ethical behavior of employees?

One of the most encouraging features of Cardinal is the fact that employees are rarely terminated. While this does not necessarily mean that Cardinal is a perfect corporation, it points to the fact that most employees believe and, therefore, follow the values and principles as promulgated by the company. Sharma, Borna and Stearns (2009) argue that corporate ethical values and principle are an organization’s true value, especially as employees and other stakeholders perceive them. The values and principles are therefore an organization’s reflection as perceived by the outside world. Cardinal’s principle of the respect of the employees and among employees has shaped the company’s employee behavior, leading to the almost non-existent dismissal of employees.

Sharma, Borna, and Stearns (2009), further inform that corporate principles and values “can be an important element that allows an organization to influence employee perceptions of the organization’s social responsibility, in turn, augmenting employee motivation” (p. 252). By first investing in the employees through training at the time of recruitment, which is one of the company’s principles, Cardinal motivates its employees to work hard in their respective divisions. Therefore, despite the ethnic diversity in employee makeup, the Iowa plant has continued to outshine the other plants in performance. By training, providing a safe working environment, and caring for the employees as a matter of principle, the company has been able to influence the behavior of the employees, giving them a sense of belonging and ownership to the firm, and, therefore, their continued exemplary performance in the world.

Among Cardinal’s values and principles include training, communication, teamwork, respect for others, a sense of humor, and having fun the process of working (Legler & Leff 2012). According to Sousa and Porto (2015), organizational cultures that put emphasis on values, such as collaboration, trust, bonding, and support usually have the highest levels of job satisfaction. Sousa and Porto (2015) further state that such values have some of the features of culture that are influential on employee behavior. By making collaboration, trust, bonding, and support their core values, Cardinal easily influences its employees’ behavior, making them happy and satisfied with their work.

Additionally, autonomy in work is one of the principles and values at Cardinal. With all the employees considered as leaders with direct access to the management, as well as capable of being held responsible for their actions, Cardinal has influenced the behavior of the employees. Knowing that each should be ready to take up any leadership position, employees in the company remain continually responsible for their actions. Sousa and Porto (2015), intimate the benefits of autonomy as promoting happiness at the workplace as well as presenting a rounded relationship among employees. Furthermore, by providing a sense of autonomy, employees are capable of having independent thought and action, which promote change and action (Sousa & Porto 2015).

Communication stands as one of the key principles of the organization. The ease of communication with the organization is evident through the hybrid system of the organizational structure. Hence, while the accounting, sales, and marketing departments follow the traditional hierarchical structure, the rest of the organization is an integrated mesh of teamwork (Legler & Leff 2012). The purpose of such a structure is to ease communication, making it easy for the flow of information from the employees to the top leadership of the organization. Besides, the open door policy means that lower cadre employees have access to the top most management of the plant. Sousa and Porto (2015), inform that such an egalitarian organizational structure stresses acceptance of colleagues as equals, as well as concern for the welfare of others. Even more is the perception of equity that such a structure reflects. It further gives an implication of “justice in the relationship between employee and employer (distributive and procedural justice), and justice in the relationship between an organization and society in general (corporate social responsibility)” (Sousa & Porto 2015, p. 213).

Relatedly, the very principle and values that have an influence on job satisfaction have an influence on job commitment and performance. Given the motivational and non-motivational work characteristics that influence job commitment, Cardinal’s principles and values have had a special influence on the employee’s commitment to their work. According to Sharma, Borna and Sterns (2009), “an individual who identifies with the ethics of his/her organization will have increased intrinsic motivation, thus, reinforcing the tie to the organization” (p. 253). It follows that by establishing a correlation or consistency between organizational values and individual values, most employees will have a considerable commitment to the organization. The correlation and congruence between organizational values and individual ethics further relate to employee performance. Moreover, higher perception of top management’s belief in organizational principles and values has a positive influence on the employee performance (Sharma, Borna& Sterns 2009).

The above is true for Cardinal, which has used its values and principles to influence the behavior of its employees. Visible in commitment and performance are Pinder and Mike Arntson, who have been with the plant since it started in Fargo (Legler & Leff 2012). Pinder and Arntson did not only craft the plants organization philosophy but also lived by it because they believed in the principles and values they set for the plant. Pinder and Arntson’s commitment are attested by the performance of the firm, remaining the most profitable of the corporation’s plants, with even increased responsibility as the corporation’s training center. Moreover, Pinder’s commitment and performance helped him in securing the promotion as the president of the corporation, while Arntson comfortably filled Pinder’s shoes as the plant manager.

Integral to the values and principles in changing employee behavior are the training and the punishment systems in place within the organization (Fisher 2010). Through the training, employees find a window to the acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the corporation, and while they may not change the individual values, they help keep employees in check concerning the ethical behavior in the company. Dismissals and punishment systems over unethical behavior also help in changing employees’ behavior, making them in accordance with the set values and principles (Borg et al. 2011).

Responsible and Accountable Leadership at Cardinal

Cardinal’s hybrid organization structure makes it possible for leaders to learn from one another and communicate easily, making it possible to make fast decisions regarding the matter at hand. The first responsible entity for the creation of responsible and accountable leaders within the organization is the training program. The quarterly leadership training sessions, coupled with the company’s Leadership Handbook, play an important role in the manufacture of responsible and accountable leadership. By telling new employees what is required of them from the start, and their leadership position, Cardinal continually grooms accountable and responsible leaders within its ranks.

Away from the training is the leadership structure of the corporation. By having three teams, which have leaders, the leadership of the teams has free reign over the decisions within their teams. However, the decisions have to be within the confines of organizational principles and values. By giving team leaders and departmental supervisors the responsibility of hiring and firing, dealing with personnel problems and organizing training, due to the absence of a human resource department, the company in effect grooms responsible and accountable managers. Moreover, one of the company’s principles is on cost awareness explicitly indicating, “We will spend money wisely here-as if the money is our own” (Legler & Leff 2012, p. 565) Leaders, from the principle, evidently have the powers of appropriation. However, even with such powers, responsibility and accountability remain the top-most expectation of the company and the top management.

The absence of a human resource department further works to train responsible and accountable leaders. According to Goldsmith (2010), most employees understand their jobs; by giving them responsibilities, encouraging, and supporting their decision-making environment, they are empowered to become accountable and responsible.This is what Cardinal has done by both training and therefore empowering the leaders to solve problems that come to them. Being close to the situation and the hybrid structure of the organization makes it not only easy but also efficient in dealing with any eventualities. By eliminating the bureaucracy, leaders continually have to make decisions without necessarily consulting the top management, guided by the shared purpose and goal of the organization.

The elimination of the traditional hierarchical structure and its bureaucracy helps in molding accountable and responsible leaders. By easing interaction among different organization hierarchies, leaders from different divisions easily interact, share, and learn from one another. Besides, it is the organizational expectation that leaders train and mentor their subordinates to take over whichever position at whichever time (Legler &Leff 2012). By so doing, there is ease in transition and passing down of the baton in the case of an exit or promotion as was the case of Pinder and Arntson.


Leadership is much more than leading the followers towards the achievement of organizational goals, mission, and vision. It requires the leader to take a further step into making the followers believe in the purpose of the organization. Only then can a leader effectively claim success in leadership. By inculcating, inspiring, and motivating followers to work towards the organization’s purpose, the leader is sure that even in his/her absence, the workers will strive to work towards the set goal. Leadership alone is not enough to convince employees into believing in the values and principles of the organization. Ethics in the leadership go further than the leadership alone. By creating an ethically sound working environment and organizational culture, the leader is guaranteed success. This is especially when organizational values and principles resonate with individual employee values. David Pinder provides an example of a leader who has achieved success through ethical leadership. By training employees, meeting them after recruitment, and informing them what is required of them, Pinder ensured that from the onset, employees are aware of tasks and the goal that the organization aims to achieve. Both the deontological and virtue ethics moral philosophies provide an attestation to Pinder’s philosophy at Cardinal. By training and laying down organizational expectations, Cardinal empowers employees to make their decisions based on the knowledge of what is right and good according to the deontological philosophy. Additionally, by training, Cardinal believes in the ability of individuals to acquire virtues, and, therefore, using them in decision-making within the organization. Cardinal additionally uses its principles and values to influence employee behavior, and train accountable and responsible leaders within the organization.


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