Understanding Ethical Failures in Leadership

Book_JacketBy Terry Price

Why do leaders fail ethically? In this book, Terry L. Price applies a multi-disciplinary approach to an understanding of immorality in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. He argues that leaders can know that a certain kind of behavior is generally required by morality but nonetheless be mistaken as to whether the relevant moral requirement applies to them in a particular situation and whether others are protected by this requirement. Price articulates how leaders make exceptions of themselves, explains how the justificatory force of leadership gives rise to such exception-making, and develops normative prescriptions that leaders should adopt as a response to this feature of their moral psychology. Understanding Ethical Failures in Leadership is the first book-length, philosophical treatment of leadership. It draws on cognitive and social psychology, history of political thought, leadership studies, management, organizational theory, and religion. Price presents a comprehensive ethical analysis that can be applied across leadership contexts -- in public, private, and non-profit sectors.

In this deeply penetrating and yet wide-ranging work, Terry Price enlarges our understanding of some of the most exacting questions of moral and ethical leadership. The result is an indispensable work for both theorists and practitioners of leadership. -- James MacGregor Burns


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This book articulates the intuition behind the charge that leaders think that they are special, that ordinary rules do not apply to them, and that followers should be expected to do as the leader says, not as the leader does. My central thesis is that ethical failures in leadership are fundamentally cognitive, not volitional. In arguing for this thesis, I reject the standard view that leaders behave unethically simply because they are selfish. Leader immorality is more a matter of belief and knowledge than a matter of desire and will. As such, the unethical behavior of leaders cannot be fully understood in terms of self-interest and the choices leaders make to put self-interest ahead of what they know to be the requirements of morality. So, for example, leadership ethics is not just about adjudicating between the interests of leaders and followers. An account of ethical failures in leadership must assign a primary role to mistaken moral beliefs.

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Author_PhotoTerry Price is Associate Professor at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond. He has contributed to the Encyclopedia of Leadership; Ethics, the Heart of Leadership; Leadership Quarterly; and the Leadership and Organization Development Journal. He is also co-editor of the three-volume International Library of Leadership and The Quest for Moral Leaders: Essays in Leadership Ethics. In 2004, he was the convener of the ILA�s Global Learning Community for Scholarship.

You may contact Terry Price at tprice@richmond.edu.

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