The Demand for Ethics and Ethical Leadership in Business is Accelerating

Ethical Leadership

By Joe Griesedieck, and Caroline Nahas

As Senior Partners at a global organizational consulting firm, working across the full range of the Fortune 1000 and a broad range of non-profit organizations, major universities, and global institutions, we are impressed with the priority focus of corporate and organizational search committees seeking senior executives who have demonstrated ethical leadership and conduct. Our daily interactions with search committees and CHROs affirm the importance of proven experience and ensuring individuals finishing MBA programs are steeped in the principles of ethical leadership and ethical decision making.  

The demand for this type of talent has accelerated dramatically in the past three years.

In addition, the candidates we recruit to consider joining these organizations ask questions about ethical leadership: 

Does the company/organization conduct itself in an ethical way

Do the leaders demonstrate ethical leadership?

In short, Are the ethics of this organization compatible with mine?

Our personal experiences and those of colleagues around the country suggest that the students “get it.”

Just a quick example is the Colorado State University School of Business offering a course on ethics and ethical leadership to all its students. 

With no advertising, no promotion, and no effort, more than 1,000 students enrolled within the first few weeks it was available. 

CSU, working with the Daniels Fund support, has greatly revised its bachelor’s program to become more focused on learning the principles of ethical leadership and ethical decision making: it is working to add these principles to their MBA program as well. 

Around the country, students are asking MBA and other business leadership programs for ethics, ethical leadership, and ethical decision making courses.

We are associated with the Anderson School of Management at UCLA and commend them for the progress they are making on infusing the Principles of Ethical Leadership in their curriculum. So too with those at Georgetown University, which has radically expanded the engagement of students in multiple facets of ethics and ethical leadership and immersive approaches. 

These are all great examples – but they are examples. Hundreds of other business schools across the nation are developing those future business leaders, government participants, and the non-profit sectors as well.

That is why we at Korn Ferry are so supportive of the work of the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, which is committed to the Principles of Ethical Leadership exemplified by Bill McGowan in his leadership roles with MCI and other telecommunications organizations. The bequest he provided to the McGowan Charitable Fund has had, as a guiding priority, the design and demonstration of ethical decision making and ensuring true engagement in learning McGowan’s Principles of Ethical Leadership through the McGowan Fellows Program. The Fellows Program partners with 10 leading universities in the US to attract high potential students to become Fellows.

We are supporters of the Ethical Leader of the Year Award, created by the McGowan Fund last year to highlight a CEO who has demonstrated convincing and sustained leadership in applying the principles of ethics and ethical leadership not only personally, but who has created a culture of ethics throughout the company. Last year’s winner, Charles Lowrey, Chair and CEO of Prudential Financial, was an inspired choice. Charles truly “walks the talk,” and he runs an organization that has embedded and built the culture of ethics and ethical leadership.

The Human Resource professional places a premium on ethics and ethical leadership.  Recognizing this, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) partners with the McGowan Fund to present the award each year at their national conference, where 18,000 HR practitioners and leaders from around the world gather. Our colleagues at SHRM have avowed the critical importance of ethics and ethical leadership in organizations for many years, and their decision to highlight the Ethical Leader of the Year Award reinforces the importance Johnny Taylor (President of SHRM), their Board, and individual SHRM members place on ethics and ethical leadership.

Based on the market demand we see every day from both sides of the hiring equation, we encourage MBA programs to accelerate their work in infusing the principles of ethical leadership into their curriculum and look to the McGowan Fellows and the work of a number of other business schools for examples of how to do it in the most effective way possible.

About the Authors

Joseph-E. GriesedieckJoe Griesedieck is the Vice Chairman of Korn Ferry



caroline nahasCaroline Nahas is the Senior Advisor of Korn Ferry

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.