University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Ethical Decision-making: Learning From Prominent Leaders in Not-for-profit Organisations

Stephenson, Marie ORCID: (2017) Ethical Decision-making: Learning From Prominent Leaders in Not-for-profit Organisations. PhD thesis, University of Worcester.

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Ethically questionable leader conduct continues to garner headlines. It has prompted the leadership field to renew their focus on research regarding the ethical dimensions of leadership. Empirical emphases have focused on understanding negative leader behaviour, with the typical leadership study reliant upon positivist approaches. I critique these studies as not having produced meaningful, practicable or wholly relevant insights regarding the challenges and support mechanisms required to lead ethically. Few studies have in fact examined leadership in not-for-profit organisations where decisions might reasonably be expected to possess elevated moral capital. To test this, my study interviewed leaders from professional sectors (the military, religious institutions, education, government and charities) in both the USA and the UK, to offer a more holistic interpretation of what underpins and directs leader moral disposition. As corollary, this research explicates issues of practicability and how other sectors might learn from leaders who perpetually practise their ethicality.

To gain insights that develop the field of leadership research, my thesis centres on the experiences of ten high-level, elite and specialised leaders. Although not selected as ethical, they were found to be principled, ethical decision-makers. A specific type of in-depth, qualitative interviewing was conducted and justified to more readily reflect the status of the leaders. Elite and specialised interviewing has not been widely used as a data collection tool, but it offered a unique opportunity to garner specialised data, once access issues had been overcome.

The findings reveal unique insights into the underexplored ethical leader mindset and highlight the complex processes of leader decision-making in situ by demonstrating what underpins leaders’ behaviour, with reference to how they understand experiences for themselves. This study uncovers the symbiotic and interconnected nature of the variety of ideological frameworks at play, positing theological concepts alongside sociological and philosophical counterparts. Ethical awareness, the notions of trust and responsibility are shown as bedrock and explicit.

This research presents a new ethical leadership, a typology that shows how ethical leaders are created through experience, sustained and developed over time, and nourished by awareness beyond the self. Current conceptions have done little to inform ethical leadership development, whereas I offer a more practical and holistic way to use the unexpected, traumatic, and intense crucibles of leadership experience to explicate and consolidate ethical foundations. This thesis presents a vision of a welfare driven leadership originating from the self, in the service of others, and for society; an ethical leadership for all.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the University’s requirement for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: ethics, leadership, ethical decision making, ethical leadership
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
L Education > L Education (General)
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Education
Related URLs:
Copyright Info: Marie Stephenson
Depositing User: Marie Stephenson
Date Deposited: 08 Jul 2019 10:14
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2022 16:32

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