Honor Ethics for Executives and Leaders

In George Washington’s Lessons in Ethical Leadership. George Washington’s Mount Vernon (2016)
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[Requested essay for George Washington Leadership Institute curriculum, Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, Mt. Vernon.] Honor is often equated with integrity, dignity, courage, and unimpeachable reputation. But what is the underlying essence of honor that explains those associations? This essay provides a framework for thinking about honor, and explores a theory of honor that understands it in terms of agonism---that is, as an ethic regulating our pursuit of prestige according to principles of fair and respectful contest. We begin by distinguishing between honor-as-prestige and honor as an ethical system. We then canvass honor’s commitment to fair competition, noblesse oblige, integrity, independence, and martial valor. After forwarding the agonistic theory of honor, we conclude with some suggestions for leaders interested in fostering honor-mindedness in their organizations.



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Dan Demetriou
University of Minnesota, Morris

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