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Ethical Leadership


“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.” - Potter Stewart

Ethical leadership demonstrates work for the common good. Ethical leaders respect beliefs, values, rights and dignity of all.

Characteristics of Ethical Leaders

  • Fair and just – Treats everyone equally
  • Respect for others – Values contributions of others and cares for all
  • Honest and loyal – Builds trust by being honest and loyal to followers
  • Humane – Treats everyone with kindness

Ethical Decision Making

  • Would you do it in front of your community members, children, spouse or parents?
  • Would you do it if it was going to be on the front page of the newspaper?
  • Would you want it done to you? Do you need to rationalize it to justify it? Are you a “walking defense mechanism”?
  •  Often times individuals make rationalizations to justify unethical behavior such as:
    • It’s ethical as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.
    • I’ve got it coming; they owe me.
    • It’s for a good cause.
    • If it’s necessary, it’s ethical.
    • I’m just fighting fire with fire.
    • Everyone else is doing it.

Source: Vettern, R. (2016). Being an ethical leader. Presentation for NDSU Extension

Leaders and members of organizations that receive public funding are subject to the open record and meeting laws. The public has the right to know how government functions are performed and how public funds are spent.

Open Records and Meetings

North Dakota has “sunshine laws,” which make all government records and meetings open to the public unless a specific law authorizes a record to be withheld or a meeting to be closed. 

These laws apply to all state and local government agencies, rural fire and ambulance districts, public schools, private businesses or non-profit organizations that are supported by or expending public funds, and contractors, if the contractor is providing services in place of a public entity rather than to that entity.