An ILA Leadership Perspectives Webinar

Justification in Leadership Ethics

Presenter: Terry Price

Date: 1 April 2009


Why do leaders break the moral rules? According to common wisdom, rule-breaking behavior is the result of selfishness. Leaders behave immorally because they think they can get away with it. But an alternative view suggests that leadership affects the way leaders think about themselves and their place in the moral community. According to this view, leaders sometimes know that their behavior is prohibited by morality and, yet, believe that the prohibition does not apply in their situation. In other words, leaders can come to believe that they are justified in breaking the rules.

In this session, Terry Price discusses the main argument of his new book Leadership Ethics: An Introduction. He uses moral theory, as well as empirical research in psychology, to evaluate the reasons everyday leaders give to justify rule-breaking behavior. Each line of justification is a variation on the reasons any person might give for breaking rules that apply more generally to others. The morally relevant difference is that leaders who appeal to these reasons seem to be in a relatively better position to build a special case for their rule-breaking behavior. In other words, what distinguishes an appeal to these reasons in the leadership context is that the rule breaker’s standing as a leader generally gives (at least the impression of) greater substance to the justification. Price therefore asks us to consider whether leaders are justified in breaking the rules after all.

Speaker Information

Terry L. Price is associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond, Virginia. He has a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Arizona, as well as degrees in philosophy, politics, and psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Oxford. He currently serves on the board of directors of the International Leadership Association and as a series editor of Jepson Studies in Leadership. Price is co-editor of The International Library of LeadershipThe Quest for Moral Leaders, and The Values of Presidential Leadership. He is author of Understanding Ethical Failures in Leadership and Leadership Ethics: An Introduction, both on Cambridge University Press.