8 Steps To Effective Ethical Leadership


Corporate ethical leadership is very much driven by the chief’s personal standards and values. Left unsteered, the lack of ethical positioning becomes a loophole through which corporate identity and image could weaken or even crumble. Steered ineffectively, the company’s credibility is at stake. Academics and practitioners – Dr William Koh and Prof Cynthia Wang, both from NUS Business School; Captain Anuj Sahai (APEX-E MBA 2003) from Lloyd’s Register Asia; Dr Mohamed Sultan (BBA Hons 1968), Chairman and founder of Melorita, and Yuen Swee Yoong (BBA Hons 1978), Managing Director and founder of Ablimo Sdn Bhd – share their observations and experience in effective corporate ethics stewardship.



The first thing a CEO must do is to articulate certain standards and values that the company believes in upholding. It should not be left to the staff to infer what the company’s values are. The CEO must then ensure that the staff identify with those values. One example is how Adrin Loi, Executive Director of Ya Kun International, constantly reiterates his belief in fairness. When we speak to Ya Kun’s staff, we find that they also raise fairness as a value the company upholds. – Dr Koh


An ethical leader leads by example. He is highly disciplined, well-organized, knowledgeable, and able to motivate the human resources under his charge to excel in individual performance. He is firm but also fair to his staff, often also showing personal interest in their career development and welfare. He plans well and ensure successful implementation of policy decisions to fruition. Ethical leadership is not something which can be readily “brought off the shelf”. It is developed over time, through his upbringing and growing years; he must have already acquired the fundamental attitudes and value system for such ethical practices when assuming a future leadership role in the corporate arena. – Mr Yuen

Reinforce desirable behaviors

If you highlight, praise and reward those who act accordingly, you have a better chance of instilling the right values as ingrained behaviors. For example, the former principal of Xin Ming Secondary School, Mr Lee Hak Boon believes in cleanliness and commends students he observes picking up letter. – Dr Koh

Rid undesirable behaviors

Conversely, you must also do the opposite. It is important to hold leaders publicly responsible for their wrongdoing. My own recent research suggests that people often to do not punish bad behaviors because it does not feel good, it often involves high costs, and it is easier to walk away and avoid the situation. But it is important that leaders do not always get away with wrongdoings. – Prof Wang

Empower others and allow them to learn from mistakes

People worry that if they come forward about problems or if they are involved in an incident, that they will be blamed. There is a concern that this could affect their chances of promotion. This also affects people speaking up and offering suggestions for improvement. Organizations should not focus on individual behavior and end up not treating incidents in a consistent manner. This will not assist the organization to learn from the past, to avoid future incidents occurring. – Capt Sahai

Compulsory education

At the institutional level, we should teach our students – current and future leaders – the importance of having ethical standards, and the potential tragedies and repercussions that could occur in straying from these standards – both on a personal and economic level. Business schools tend to teach students how to maximize profits, remaining awkwardly silent about ethical implications of this mentality. A handful of schools (e.g. Harvard) now institute a mandatory ethics course. However, many, many more are still only introducing the subject as an elective. Ironically, the students who are most concerned with ethics will be the ones most likely to take the ethics course! What is vitally important is educating the ones that are less interested in, exposed to, or knowledgeable on the subject of ethics. – Prof Wang

Unconditional determination

If you have a vision of something that is right, act accordingly, and do not expect an endorsement of your idea from anyone else. You have to act according to your gut feel and be bold about it. Dream, take the steps to achieve your dream, and be prepared to fail and to get up after every failure and try again. – Dr Mohamed

Right the basics – the vision

Having a worthwhile and meaning vision. Our business sector, the recruitment service, is filled with not very good practices, and does not have a good image because of some fraudulent practices, and does not have a good image because of some fraudulent practices. But our vision was to conduct the business with integrity and values. As a result, thousands of families and our clients have benefited from what we do. – Dr Mohamed

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