Follow the Leader: Leadership Lessons from Rock Climbing

Rock Climber

Although the concept of ethical leadership has not been neglected in leadership studies, it remains a vague and poorly defined idea. A direct consequence of this ambiguity is the challenge of practicing ethical leadership in real-life situations. In an effort to better define ethical leadership and provide leadership principles that leaders can strive for, Diane P. Bischak and Jaana Woiceshyn explore what makes a virtuous leader and outline six essential virtues at the core of ethical leadership–rationality, honesty, independence, integrity, justice, and pride. In their article, “Leadership Virtues Exposed: Ethical Leadership Lessons from Leading in Rock Climbing,” published in Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, the authors utilize their observations of leadership in rock climbing to break down the concept of ethical leadership into moral action principles that are easier to define, and thus easier for leaders to apply.

The abstract:

Leadership clearly has an impact on organizational outcomes, and previous research has revealed the antecedents and consequences of JLOS_72ppiRGB_powerpointleadership styles and the effects of leaders’ personality traits. We focus on an area that has received much less attention: ethical leadership practice and the virtues that guide it. Following the positive turn in leadership research, we examine what constitutes virtuous action of leaders. We draw on observations made in a novel realm, rock climbing, and integrate them with the literature on leadership virtues while drawing parallels to business. We identify six essential virtues at the core of the ethical leadership model we propose: rationality, honesty, independence, integrity, justice, and pride. Three of these—rationality, independence, and pride—are not conventional virtues, but we suggest that they are critical for ethical leadership, as is the standard of human flourishing and the leader’s relationship with followers as a trader of values. Our analysis is summarized in testable propositions.

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