Ethics are often thought of as black and white, but that is really not the case. There are many shades of grey, and what is ethical in some instances may not be ethical in others. Additionally, there are concerns when it comes to what one person thinks is ethical vs. what another would find ethical. That is often why there are so many discrepancies and issues to consider when one talks about ethics. It is not just a simple issue where a person can say that something is always ethical or not ethical. Instead, the situation must be considered, as well as the people and the circumstances surrounding everything. In many cases, the issue comes down to ethical training, which does not always work out well. The plan is to train people to act ethically, but training someone to act in a manner that is generally down to human conscience is not an easy task.
In some cases it works very well, and in other cases it does not work out well because there are too many issues and circumstances that are not efficiently addressed. This is important to remember, since ethical training is not a task that can simply be done in the course of a day and not mentioned again. Ethics are a part of life, whether a person is at work or at home. In one's personal life, ethics may play a far different role than it would in a person's work or business life. This is due to the fact that the ethical "training" one received from parents and others over the course of time may be very different from the ethics that are accepted in a particular company or position. One has to remember this, in order to clearly understand what is being required of him or her.
Transactional leadership has long been a concern for those with extremely high ethical standards. That is not to say that this kind of leadership is unethical in any way, but it is far different from transformational leadership, which will be discussed in the next section. When a person considers transactional leadership, he or she must consider the idea that there is a clear leader and clear followers (Becker & Becker, 2002). This can be a highly beneficial way to operate a business, but it does not always protect the people who are a part of that business. Having ethical leaders "giving the orders" at the top of a company can keep that company moving forward (Singer, 2000). However, when there are unethical leaders in those same positions, the people working for those leaders can end up struggling because they are treated unfairly and unable to do anything about it. This is a failure of ethical training, or a lack of same (Becker & Becker, 2002).
A transactional leader is focused on the actual leadership of the company, but he or she leads in a very direct way. While it may go too far to say that the transactional leader just gives orders, that is actually very similar to the ways these leaders operate their businesses (Singer, 2000). Because of that, the followers must simply do what they are told, or they could risk being out of a job. They do not have input into the situations in which they find themselves, and that can be highly detrimental for them because they may be asked to do a job with which they are not comfortable or for which they are not prepared (Becker & Becker, 2002). That can lead them to struggle with the job, and can also lead them to struggle with their ethics. For example, if they are asked to lie or otherwise deceive a client or potential customer, they can be torn between doing what they are told in order to keep their job and doing what is right based on the ethics they have.
With transactional leadership, this is a large problem because there is no input from the followers to the leader (Becker & Becker, 2002). Without that input, the leader does not know if he or she is doing a good job, and some leaders may not care what the employees think of the job he or she is doing, either. Additionally, there is another serious problem with this kind of leadership from an ethical training level. Followers look to leaders when it comes to how they should handle things in the company and sometimes in their personal lives, as well (Becker & Becker, 2002). When a leader does not help his or her followers, or when that leader models unethical behavior, he or she is not training his or her employees to act ethically. The lack of ethics can spill over into the company and the personal lives of the employees, creating misconduct and unethical behaviors (Singer, 2000).
This possibility is a serious consideration of ethical training, and one that has to be addressed. Without actual training programs for ethics (and sometimes even with those programs in place), it can be very easy for a leader and/or an employee to end up struggling with what is ethical and what is not when it comes to behaving correctly (Singer, 2000). While some people are not aware of what is or is not ethical from a business standpoint, other people are very aware of this. Whether they choose to follow ethical practices, however, is not the same thing as whether they understand them or are aware of them. Additionally, leaders who have a strong level of control over their followers can require those followers to focus on issues that are not acceptable ethically but must be agreed to if the followers want to keep their jobs (Becker & Becker, 2002). Naturally, that can cause significant discomfort for the followers who are being asked to engage in behavior they might not feel is ethical. While transactional leadership can work well, it is also a failure of ethical training in many cases (Singer, 2000).
Transformational leadership is very different in its style, and also in the way ethics are often handled by leaders who practice it. Many leaders have moved away from the transactional style of leadership and have become more focused on leading in a transformational way. This kind of leadership is also often called servant leadership, and can be based on Christian principles (Becker & Becker, 2002). While many of these leaders do hold Christian beliefs, that is not required in order to lead in a transformational style. Generally, this style is very ethical in many ways because the leader and the followers work so closely together (Singer, 2000). In this style, leaders make followers feel as though they are part of the team (Becker & Becker, 2002). They do that by including them and talking to them instead of at them. In other words, these leaders do not just give orders and expect things to get done. They become part of the team and work as equals with their followers (Becker & Becker, 2002). Doing so allows them not only to get more done, but also to know and understand their followers better so they can all maintain a specific ethical persona for the entire company.
Of course, there is no guarantee that transformational leadership will be ethical in nature. It is a much different type of leadership, and if the leader and followers work together in an unethical manner, that will be a serious failure of ethical training (Becker & Becker, 2002). If the transformational leader bases his or her leadership and the followers' ethical training on sound ethical principles, there is little to worry about. That is often the case with those who are focused on Christian principles, but there can be unethical people in every religion and company (Singer, 2000). One of the most interesting things about transformational leadership when it comes to ethical training is the way everyone works together. This means that ethics are taught by the leader, but also by the followers (Becker & Becker, 2002). When both leaders and followers are able to teach and train one another, the group dynamics can be very interesting, because the largest number of people who hold a particular ethical opinion can often sway the entire group (Singer, 2000).
There can be serious ethical failures when the leader or a large number of the followers are unethical, but when the leader and followers are interested in high ethical standards, working as a team can mean they help one another and continue to raise their standards even higher (Becker & Becker, 2002). That is not only a good thing for the company and the employees involved, but also for the customers who are receiving goods and/or services from that company (Becker & Becker, 2002). The more ethical the company is, the better the customers will be treated and the more they will return to the…