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Importance of ethical leadership in the public sector

6 December 2016

The top-rated American journal, Public Administration Review, has recently published an article by Cardiff University academics on ethical leadership.

The article, titled What Determines Ethical Behavior in Public Organizations: Is It Rules or Leadership?, was written by Dr James Downe (Cardiff Business School) and Prof Richard Cowell (School of Geography and Planning) with a colleague (Dr Karen Morgan) from the University of Bristol.

The study finds that ethical leadership is much more than simply complying with rules, as the actions of leaders can be important in promoting good conduct and fostering an ethical culture. The personal moral values of leaders in setting an example for others to follow are crucial. The research concluded that effective leaders need to be willing to intervene informally to steer behaviour in their organisations and resolve emerging problems rather than relying upon formal regulatory mechanisms.

The article examined ethical leadership through a qualitative study of the “ethical framework” for English local government, which entailed all councils adopting a code of conduct to regulate the behaviour of local politicians. Studying local government provided an excellent opportunity to analyse the ways in which ethical leadership is exercised through multiple people in leadership roles, both politicians and managers.

The article is open access and can be read for free through the Public Administration Review website.

The themes highlighted in the article are closely linked to Cardiff Business School Public Value strategy which promotes social and economic improvement and addresses the grand challenges of our time through interdisciplinary research. Find out more about the School’s Public Value strategy.

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