Article Review: Ethical Leadership by Larry Lashway

The solving of dilemmas is an everyday experience for school leaders; the most difficult choice is an ethnical dilemma where two honored values conflict and the choice is between two rights. Lashway (1996) investigates this issue of ethical leadership and provides guidelines for resolving such dilemmas. The article is relevant in a world where society is becoming very critical of those in authority who are responsibility for making moral and ethical judgments.

Currently, our school is dealing with an ethical dilemma between two rights: technology and Inuit culture. Our school is in the process of acquiring Internet services; this has been long in coming and many of the teachers have worthwhile projects in mind using the World Wide Web. However, the Internet is primarily an English world, hardly any sites use Inuktitut language. Teachers in K - 2 teach in immersion Inuktitut and may not be able to use the new technology in a way appropriate for student language development. Many of the elders are worried that by using the Internet in the classroom, students will see even less value in their own language and culture. As school leaders, it becomes important for us to come to grips with these concerns.

Lashway (1996) suggests a set of guidelines for solving ethical dilemmas like the one described. Leaders need to have a clear sense of ethical principles that they are willing to act on; ethical consciousness will contain themes of caring, justice, and critique (Lashway, 1996). By examining dilemmas from different perspectives, leaders can come up with a solid solution. One way is to assess the consequences of each choice and identify who will be affected by each decision. Another way is to use moral rules that are widely accepted; Lashway (1996) uses the example of telling the truth. A third way is to judge the circumstance against the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Lashway, 1996).

Reframing the ethical issue is a way to avoid the either/or thinking because many dilemmas are actually trilemmas which offer an alternate path (Lashway, 1996). The example of Internet versus Inuktitut language may be one of these; our principal believes that by using the Internet to display student knowledge of their Inuit roots in Inuktitut and English using stories and pictures, the gap between generations can be bridged instead of widened. Finally, Lashway (1996) states that leaders must have the habit of conscious reflection.

Schools leaders have the responsibility of creating an ethical institution and the leader’s conduct must be "deliberately moral" in both word and deed (Lashway, 1996). Coercion through abuse of power is not tolerated and teachers must be confident that the principal’s point of view reflects values they endorse (Lashway, 1996). Leaders create ethical institutions supporting others in the raising of awareness of ethical issues, forming ethical codes and by advising others struggling with dilemmas (Lashway, 1996). If the standards set by the group are ignored, principals should "lead by outrage" (Lashway, 1996). The author could go one step further by saying that it is not only up to the principal to monitor ethical dilemmas, rather it is the responsibility of the whole group to communicate expectations and standards to make sure violators are set straight. As a staff, our school is committed to supporting Inuit culture and language and therefore if teachers within the staff are breaking the standards, it becomes the others’ responsibility to make them aware of their accountability.

Finally, Lashway (1996) ends the article by discussing the virtues that leaders must practice. "Moral leadership begins with moral leaders" (Lashway, 1996). Moral leaders personify their message by teaching through words and actions (Lashway, 1996); it is the whole idea of walking the talk or practicing what they preach. Honesty, courage, using power with restraint and stewardship are all very important virtues for ethical leaders to follow. The author emphasizes, "whatever virtue is desired . . . it must become a habit. Ethical behavior is not something that can be held in reserve for momentous issues; it must be a constant companion" (Lashway, 1996). Thus, ethical leaders have roots that go deep into human integrity. This allows them to make ethical decisions founded on grounded beliefs and standards.

This article gives clear direction for those who are in the face of ethical dilemmas. The problem solving tips are very applicable for almost any situation. Lashway (1996) suggests forming an ethics committee similar to those found in hospitals but in most public schools, teachers’ federation takes that role and has already developed a code of ethics. Our school is encouraged to use the Thirty-Minute Problem Solving model to help teachers and leaders solve difficult problems, some ethical dilemma and others not. The dilemmas that happen daily are more often than not individual decisions; an ethics committee may be better used for guidance than for reprimand. Simply becoming more aware of preexisting codes of ethics may help raise awareness of the importance of being good role models for the community and students.

Lashway (1996) highlights one important aspect that challenges stereotypes of leaders. Leaders must be able to acknowledge their own human faults and limitations. Despite the amount of training that leaders may have in dealing with dilemmas, it is very important to remember that leaders can make mistakes too. They need to have support systems in place to help them make good decisions. This article by Lashway (1996) is helpful for all who are involved in making ethical decisions, even those who are not in formal leadership roles.


Lashway, Larry. (1996) Ethical leadership. ERIC Digest [On-line] 107. Available: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management.