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Ethics in Leadership

Sophocles’ “Antigone” raised this question of ever going debate about the ethical duties of a leader almost two thousand years ago. Sophocles’ tragedy highpoints the mysterious origins of human values and their ever presence in human history (Griffith, 1999).

In the TEDx talk Alexander Wagner referred to it as the “protected value” and he himself doubts about its origins whether it is natural or nurtured, we don’t know but like Antigone we have this intrinsic urge to protect our ethics regardless of the authority (What really motivates people to be honest in business?, 2016). Antigone argues against Creon the leader of Thebes that one must be buried not because it is written somewhere in scriptures or on tablets but because it had been so since the inception of time. Machiavelli’s “The Prince” challenges this and gives us a very dark view of the reality of leadership and the relative nature of the ethics and that “the ends justifies the means” (Machiavelli, 1940). Similarly, Immanuel Kant coined a term “categorical imperative” in the deontological theory of ethics and according to Kant actions are not judged by their consequences but whether the action are good in itself. Leadership and ethic go hand in hand, through the history we have seen leaders breaking this “protected values” and brought greater harm to humanity in the massive violation of human rights such as holocaust under the influence of ethical egoism (Northouse, 2018)

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, all the greatest philosophers such as Plato, and Aristotle believe in the fallible nature of human being but at the same time they proposed their ethical theories regarding leadership and general behavior. Thus, principles of ethical leadership provide a very acute and practical proposal for leadership though it has its shortcomings but nonetheless it highpoints the ethical necessity involve in leadership for the collectives as well as the individual good.


What really motivates people to be honest in business?. (2016).

by A. Wagner. TEDx.

Northouse, P. G. (2018). Leadership: Theory and practice. Sage publications.

Machiavelli, N. (1940). The Prince and Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius. New York: The Modern Library.

Griffith, M. (Ed.). (1999). Sophocles: Antigone. Cambridge University Press.



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