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Leadership and Ethical Development: Balancing Light and Shadow

  • Benyamin M. Lichtenstein, Beverly A. Smith and William R. Torbert

What makes a leader ethical? This paper critically examines the answer given by developmental theory, which argues that individuals can develop through cumulative stages of ethical orientation and behavior (e.g. Hobbesian, Kantian, Rawlsian), such that leaders at later developmental stages (of whom there are empirically very few today) are more ethical. By contrast to a simple progressive model of ethical development, this paper shows that each developmental stage has both positive (light) and negative (shadow) aspects, which affect the ethical behaviors of leaders at that stage. It also explores an unexpected result: later stage leaders can have more significantly negative effects than earlier stage leadership.

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Business Ethics Quarterly
  • ISSN: 1052-150X
  • EISSN: 2153-3326
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