Striking the Balance Between Ethical Leadership and Bottom-Line Leadership

I took a class this summer about leadership and I found it to be extremely interesting as it relates to what I do. Our class researched the last 100 years of leadership styles in the world, the methodologies behind them, and studied the evolution of approaches to leadership from 1900 to today.

I found the ethical leadership research to be the most interesting and timely in today’s environment.  The vast majority of the work that the Executive team at Aureus Group does is tied to helping our clients find great leaders. We are hired by companies that are looking for people to lead initiatives, lead teams, lead change – all in an ethical environment. I spoke with a high level executive in the financial services industry last week who told me, “Ethics is huge today. Twenty years ago there was a belief that people who skirted the rules tended to move ahead faster. That is clearly not the case anymore.” I completely agree with him. The four components of ethical leadership are as follows:

Moral Sensitivity – recognizing the existence of ethical problems and issues and acknowledging the impact of strategic decisions on the followers in a company.

Moral Judgement – deciding which course of action is the right one to follow based on justice, cooperation, and respect.

Moral Motivation – the follow through stage of the choices made by leaders; the rubber stamping of the decision.

Moral Character – this is the implementation phase; this is the act of taking a project to the hoop and executing.

Many high level candidates during the last few years have told me that the pressure on them today is higher than ever. They are under the gun to produce results and many times, in the wake of sound fiscal decisions, their people are left feeling battered and abused. When a CFO is making a judgment call decision, there can be an extremely fine line between a positive and negative ripple effect.

A decision made by an executive could skim a few thousand dollars off the company’s bottom line but significantly negatively affect an employee’s ability to provide for their family. A shaky compliance department could make a nice short-term impact on a company’s business development team, but it could make the company vulnerable to significant long-term ramifications. It can be extremely difficult for leaders to manage their corporate image within an organization both up and down the food chain.

Finding the balance between “doing the right thing” and “doing things right” is maybe more difficult now than ever before. Our clients have communicated to us that finding leaders who not only have the ability to drive a business to new heights, but also have the ability to make their employees feel fulfilled, motivated, and excited about what they do is paramount in today’s environment. Leaders must juggle the bottom line responsibilities of the company that pays them, but also work every day to keep their people happy. 

General Norman Schwarzkopf had one of my favorite quotes about ethical leadership when he said, “Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.” However, that’s an easier sentence to say than it is to execute. The companies that are able to execute on sound ethical leadership decisions will surely separate themselves from those that cannot, and the tough decisions that are made today will shape the business landscape of the future.


Jeff Kovar, Aureus Group Executive Recruiter
Jeff Kovar, Aureus Group Executive Recruiter

About Jeff Kovar
Jeff has been with the Aureus Executive Search team since September 2008 and in the recruiting business since April 2007. Prior to entering the recruiting world, he worked for five years in the corporate currency exchange business. He specializes in working with $100K+ candidates in the actuarial, financial, accounting, banking, and many other functional areas from coast to coast. Jeff enjoys golfing, watching Nebraska football, spending time with his wife Jenny and jogging with their two labs – Freddy and Cali.

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