One ethics code applies to all, Peart tells higher ed leaders at American Council on Education
June 30, 2010
Leadership Ethics was the topic in June when Jepson School of Leadership Studies Dean Sandra J. Peart presented a workshop in Washington for fellows of the American Council on Education. ACE fellows are senior leaders in higher education, many of whom eventually serve as college presidents.
The question she posted: Is there a special set of ethics for leaders? Through a series of exercises and examples, Peart made the case that leaders should forgo exception-making and adopt the same moral compass used for all. “It’s about how we want everyone to act toward everyone else.”
During stressful times leaders are most prone to make exceptions, she suggested in her presentation. In the midst of the economic crisis, for instance, we must take special care to make ethical decisions.
Leaders sometimes see themselves set apart by status or circumstances early in life. They may be accustomed to being named team captain or elected class president. They may be rule breakers rather than rule followers. This may lead to a perception that the leader is somehow special. Yet the more a leader positions herself apart from her peers, the more at risk she becomes of moral failure.
The leader who perceives himself as “special” may act accordingly. Most prone to mistakes and missteps are leaders who have gained the confidence of their group. The group nods to their will and the leader may sometimes bypass followers or team members. In effect, the leader may fail to be accountable to others.
“A strong and effective leader realizes that reciprocity is a powerful motivational force and that transparency is a mechanism for keeping the leader honest, for maintaining reciprocity and for creating the kind of mutual respect among people that leads to the highest achievements within an institution.”
Fellows came to the workshop having read selections from Leadership Ethics, by Terry L. Price, professor and associate dean at the Jepson School. Simply put, Peart’s message for leadership ethics was that:
- Moral theory does not justify a special code of ethics for leaders.
- Behavior of leaders must conform to ethical norms of the group.
- Leaders and followers are bound by the same moral rules.
* * *
Founded in 1918, ACE is the major coordinating body for all the nation's higher education institutions, representing more than 1,600 college and university presidents, and more than 200 related associations, nationwide. Since 1965 the ACE Fellows Program is the longest-running leadership development program in the United States and focuses on identifying and preparing senior leadership for the nation’s colleges and universities. The program combines seminars, interactive learning opportunities, campus events and an internship at another higher education institution to condense years of on-the-job experience and skills development into a single semester or year.
More than 1,500 higher education leaders have participated in the program since its inception 42 years ago, including more than 300 Fellows who have gone on to serve as chief executive officers of more than 350 colleges and universities. Among ACE’s board members is University of Richmond President Edward L. Ayers.