Effective leadership and ethics are inseparable. Ethics is a branch of philosophy that involves recommending and defending right and wrong conduct or behaviour. Ethics may also be described as the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation. (Merriam –Webster Dictionary).
The word Leadership is said to originate from the English root word “leith,” which meant “to go forth and die,” in battle (Aldridge, 2018). In other words, a Christian leader is so dedicated that he or she is willing to sacrifice for the success of the work. Modern scholars define leadership as a process whereby one individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. Leadership can also be described as the ability to possess power, authority, capacity and credibility to get a following. Accordingly, leadership involves a process of influencing individuals or groups of people so as to achieve desired goals (Northouse, 2019). Considering these two definitions, one can say that true Christian leadership is inseparable from ethics. It is almost impossible for a leader to effectively and sustainably get a following and achieve the desired goals during his tenure without proper ethical practices.
Although there are many unscrupulous ways some leaders may gain followership, an effective leader should still be able to gain a following from his or her subordinates through sound ethical conduct rather than through mere charisma, popularity, power abuse, authority, or coercion. Such a focused leader is a person of virtue. What are the virtues of an ethical leader? According to Aristotle, a moral person demonstrates such virtues as courage, temperance, generosity, self-control, honesty, sociability, modesty, fairness, and justice (Velasquez, 1992). These virtues empower a person to live well in communities (Northouse, 2013).
While effective leadership should be concerned with accomplishing the major goals of the institution, this should not be done at the expense of the students or subordinates. It is imperative that neither of the two objectives be sacrificed because the determination of the relationship between those relevant objectives would then be compromised. The execution of such a culture of leadership will then lead to either an economic depersonalization or to a utopian state of lacking efficiency in business (Nass & Kreuer, 2018).
Ethics of Christian leadership should always be guided by biblical principles. The Bible has many examples of both good and bad leaders. There are great lessons which can be learnt from all these examples. There are great leadership principles on ethical conduct of leaders that have been written by different scholars. In this article I would like to lean more on the biblically guided ethical principles of leadership. These may be summed up in the following important points.
- Love for God and love for man
- Praise in public and rebuke in secret
Love for God and love for man
Love your neighbor as yourself is a popular saying. But this may not be easily practiced unless one first has the love of God in their heart. When God’s love abounds in the leader’s heart, all the leader’s conduct, behaviour, and decision-making is governed by love for God and mankind. This applies to the leader’s ethical standards, too. The Bible says, ”You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might and your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:26-40). To love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves is key. This sums it up.
This sounds so much like the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Loving our neighbors as ourselves means one cannot unnecessarily do an unpleasant thing to a neighbor, subordinate or workmate. Whatever is done to others should be motivated by love, to ultimately work out good for the other person. In other words, when we love our neighbor as ourselves we respect each person’s individuality. Respect for the dignity of all persons in society regardless of age, race, ethnicity, color, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, marital status, and political belief, is a virtue (Swindol). Institutional profitability and efficiency must be balanced with the humanistic orientation. None of these should substitute the other (Nass & Keuer, 2018).
In Part 2 of this article, we will discuss the other principles of ethical leadership presented in the Bible.