Journal of Business Ethics 122 (2):1-17 (2014)

Current literature on ethical leadership and unethical leadership reflects a Western-based private sector perspective, pointing toward a compliance-oriented understanding of ethical and unethical leadership. As today’s executives increasingly have to ethically lead across different cultures and sectors, it becomes vitally important to develop a more holistic picture how ethical and unethical leadership is perceived in the Western and Eastern cultural cluster and the private and the public/social sector. Addressing this issue, the present study aims to identify cross-cultural and cross-sectoral commonalities and differences in international executives’ perceptions of ethical and unethical leadership. Findings from in-depth interviews (N = 36) with executives from Western and Eastern cultures working in the private or the public/social sector reveal collectively held perceptions of ethical leadership (including leader honesty, integrity, concern for responsibility/sustainability, and people orientation) and of unethical leadership (referring to leader dishonesty, corruption, egocentrism, and manipulation). Results indicate limited support for a compliance-oriented perspective on ethical and unethical leadership but yield a much greater trend toward a value-oriented perspective. Concrete practice examples illustrate these different perspectives. Cultural and sectoral particularities of executive perceptions of ethical and unethical leadership are discussed
Keywords Ethical leadership  Eastern culture  Organizational sector  Unethical leadership  Western culture
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Reprint years 2014
DOI 10.1007/s10551-013-1740-0
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