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Dissertation Abstract

Investigating a Global Axiology: Looking for a Global Leadership Ethic

Dan Lawson
April 2008

Leadership ethics are difficult to understand in an age where moral reasoning has become so diverse. Epistemological relativism, antifoundationalism, pluralism, postmodernism, and situational ethics are just a few of the philosophies that argue there are no moral absolutes upon which a leader can base his or her leadership ethics. In a leadership culture where there are no moral absolutes, principle is often the victim of avarice. Leadership scandals such as Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom in the corporate arena; clergy sexual abuse in the religious arena; and human rights violations in the global political arena has created suspicion and doubt on the part of the general public toward those who lead (Hunter, 2004). In the midst of this faltering confidence toward contemporary leaders, prominent authors such as Warren Bennis, John W. Gardner, James M. Kouzes, and Barry Z. Posner argue there is a direct connection between personal ethics and the ability to lead (Sherman, 2003). This suggests that bad leadership is, among other things, the result of poor personal ethics, while leaders with high moral character are considered more effective in their leadership ability. If there is a connection between leadership ability and the leader’s ethical character, the question arises as to the origin and foundation of the leader’s ethics. This study examines the possibility that moral absolutes, often referred to as natural law, do exist and that every global culture around the world universally accepts, and holds in high esteem, these common moral values. Qualitative content analysis is employed to examine three global documents from the international corporate arena, the religions of the world, and global politics. The research suggests congruence in ethical thought among these three global arenas, thereby suggesting universal acceptance of these common ethical principles in every global culture. This study argues that these common ethical principles provide an ethical foundation upon which a leader can base his or her leadership ethics. The study concludes by proposing a construct for authentic leader integrity, the congruence between these globally accepted ethical values, the leader’s espoused values, and the leader’s enacted values.