Resilyence - ethical leadership

Ethical Leadership is the Essence of Safety Leadership


Sometime in my past I worked in an executive role along side the CEO. I was his ‘right-hand-man’ because he wanted ‘safety’ and compliance at his fingertips at all times. This lead me to believe his motivation was of good moral standing. I then witnessed how he gained ‘power’ in an executive team meeting: swearing, table thumping, public humiliation and fear! I started to question his motivations as a leader.

De Pree (1991 p. 128) talks about how leaders can be blind-sided by their own agenda, ‘Our need to achieve often leads us to worship an agenda’. I wonder what agenda my ex-CEO was proclaiming when he behaved in this manner? De Pree discusses that technology in organisations is dehumanising us because we are so focussed on words rather than behaviour. Although we as humans still only trust through which we see. De Pree (1991 p. 128) states that the effectiveness of a good leader is ‘based on such things as trust and vision and competence and fidelity’. We know this to be a value of a person when we see this in their actions not by what they say or write.

Interestingly my thoughts were that this ex-CEO had a belief that he had ‘power’ when he engaged with his team. Long (2013a p. 46) had a different view on what constitutes power.

Everyone understands the power of power: the power that comes from the barrel of a gun; the power that comes from a fat bank account; the power that comes from having connections in high places. But the power of presence is real power.

Being present is not actually thinking about one self. It’s about building relationships and gaining respect. How do leaders obtain a ‘followership’ through power? It’s the power of presence not through fear tactics.

Schein (2013) defines power of presence as ‘humble enquiry’. To engage with people effectively one must become humble. To be seen as vulnerable. This vulnerability gains respect when communicating. Communicating is the way in which we engage with people and form relationships. Long (2013b as cited in 6 conversation hard hats training) also talks about the power of gaining respect through ‘suspending your own agenda’. Therefore, it would appear that in order to be a good leader we need to not have a personal agenda, behave in a manner that reflects our values and building relationships through communication.

Could this be what represents ethical leadership? We turn to Brown et al (2005 p. 120) to look for a definition of what constitutes ethical leadership.

…the demonstration of normatively appropriate conduct through personal actions and interpersonal relationships, and the promotion of such conduct to followers through two-way communication reinforcement, and decision-making.

A bit of a dry definition yet it still states that we need to demonstrate by way of our own personal actions, build relationships and communicate.

I believe my ex-CEO was doing everything in his ‘power’ to dis-engage his team through his values mis-matching his behaviour. My ex-CEO taught me everything on how not to be an effective leader.

Safety practitioners and professionals must be leaders in their own right. They are change managers and the only way to facilitate change is to be an effective leader. An effective leader is an ethical leader. Until we start thinking this way will we never engage CEOs through to the workers.


Brown, M.E., Trevio, L.K., & Harrison, D. (2005) Ethical Leadership: A social learning perspective for construct development and testing. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 97, 117-134
De Pree (1991) Leadership Jazz. Wilkinson Books, Melbourne.
Long, G (2013a) Love over hate finding life by the wayside. The Slattery Media Group, Richmond Victoria.
Long, R (2013b) as cited in Six hard hats six safety conversations program
Schein, E.H., (2013) Humble Inquiry, The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco.

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