Embrace Ethical Leadership


Dr. Tulasi Acharya 

The results of local elections have come out letting us know what happens if political parties fail to address people’s concerns and local problems. Mainly, the winning of Balen Shah as Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Harka Sampang of Dharan Sub-metropolitan City and Gopal Hamal of Dhangadi Sub-metropolitan City — all of them were/are independent candidates — give a clear message that people can simply refuse to elect someone from the institutionalised parties if the latter fail to establish a good relationship with them through communication, cooperation, and cooptation. This election is a reminder that people are power that can place or displace the leader who fails to deeply think of people’s agendas and meet their mandates. 

Those who seem to have worked on behalf of people in the past have been reelected even this time, for example Chiribabu Maharjan from Lalitpur Metropolitan City and Renu Dahal from Bharatpur Metropolitan City. This also shows that people are not illiterate or incorrigible or without a conscience when it comes to the time of election. One should not undermine the power of people who are ready to give a lot of benefits of doubt until the leader realises it. 

There is a reason why this local election gave us a surprise. It is not because people completely lost the trust in the political parties. They simply give a jolt to the parties when the latter stick to status quo. The election results are also the outcome of, to some extent, people’s frustrations with the political parties, but more than that they seem to have focused on the candidates’ clear agendas and the existing and immediate problems the candidates were able to bring up during election times instead of wasting their time and energy blaming the opposition party and the party leaders.  

Ethical leadership

Most of the political leaders in the past failed to bring in ethical leadership that is important for a positive change in the society. Thus, all the winners from the local elections must introduce ethical leadership during their tenure if they want the people to continue to trust them. 

According to Philip Selznick, when we define leadership, it should be defined in terms of social and institutional contexts to create congruence between the leader and the follower, between the what the leaders do and how the followers perceive. To create such congruency, the leader should value sociological and psychological characteristics from society, for example how society functions, how people in the society behave, and how society is made, while infusing day to day behaviour with long-run meaning and purpose. 

The leader is a statesman, becoming critical of internal and external pressures and identifying the socio-cultural structure based on social beliefs, cultures, myths, and personal narratives, and how they affect the structure of the institutions, organisations, and ministries. A leader with the knowledge of ethical leadership will be cognizant of these. If there is a lack of ethical leadership, it affects leader-follower relationship, impelling people not to trust the leader at all. The leaders must have the knowledge of the culture, people, and the context people live in, and the leaders should be guided by positive attitudes for doing something for the society. 

Ethical leadership has moral guidance as it does the right things and does things right. The ethical leadership is path finding and culture building, facilitating institutional learning. Ethical leadership is more guided by the elements of conservatorship leadership that emphasises the understanding of tradition and culture.  Emphasising the importance of culture, ethical leadership restricts any incongruence from happening, and enhances institutional or societal positive change through What Mathew Dull would say “control, competence, and commitments.” In this case, the leaders’ dialogue and communication with the local people become very important in understanding a culture and how that culture can alter decision making and improve performance in the society. 

An understanding of how society is built is the key in ethical leadership. The leader must be able to recognise the social biasness. The leader should be willing to think for the broader interest of people. The leader that has many good followers help society to grow, bring coordination, cooperation, and cooptation in the organisation and social reformation. Ethical leadership is about knowing the core values, individual identities, marginalized narratives and their lived experiences, vision, virtue and learning from them organisational/institutional norms, values, and principles. Knowing the institutional values leads to the rituals of confidence and good faith, which legitimatise the work the leaders do by establishing good relationships between the leader and the follower and creating congruence within the working culture. The leader who lacks ethical leadership will be driven by over ambition, pride and bragging. 

Positive change

Ethical leadership is crucial in understanding the personal narratives and social, cultural, mythical, and psychological aspects of the society. Ethical leadership works to address the uncertainties and helps create congruency between the leader and the follower. It helps the leader to be critical of and design the leadership structure and principle and help the society grow and build the trust between people and the leaders accordingly. Thus, ethical leadership really matters for a positive change in the society and to have people to continue to trust the leader. Those who represent us, no matter which political party they belong to, must introduce ethical leadership in their deeds.

The local elections results must be the opportunity to end the habits of blaming each other and start reviewing critically where they failed and how they failed to bring in ethical leadership in their work, behaviour, and attitudes that will only lead them to be a better leader in the future. This message is also for those who have been winners in this election. If they fail to bring in ethical leadership and move forward, we can imagine what might happen. 

(The author holds a PhD in Public Administration) 

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