One of the most awakening moments in my studies on authentic leadership is that which Paul Begley shared at a conference at the Penn State University in 2009. He describes ethics in the form of different perspectives of ethics.
The practise of ethics and the problem solving of it is the first category. This is common to the school leader or Principal. Problem solving is a very natural and common part of any school leaders day.
The second is the study of it in an academic arena, as would be found with a philosopher. So, at this point, we have the academic and the practitioner.
But Begley stretches this notion that ethical decisions can be made from many different areas of life. He speaks to us of the legal ethics with a legal, law abiding perspective. The decisions made by a police officer will be different to a welfare officer.
He continues to share the social justice ethics, again with social justice as its heightened perspective. An ethical decision being made about refugees in the country will vary, for example, between a social justice advocate and a politician responsible for the management of the country. In both these examples, the ethical decisions being made are between two rights in each case but their perspectives are clearly different.
What Begley encourages is the ideal that ethics is a singular definition but with many perspectives. He represents this by the notion of the “intersection” that all perspectives can meet at but that many come to this intersection from “different routes”.
The definition of ethics may seem stable and the decision making process of ethical decision making may be understood but clearly, the element most needing to be understood is the perspectives that they come to us from. When a leader can be, as Begley calls it “sensitive to the perspectives and be able to spot moral dilemmas” then the leader will also show existence of moral literacy in their leadership.
And Begley affirms that because of our diverse society, technological advances and needs for the environment then there will also be an increase in ethical dilemmas.
Perspectives and sensitivity to them will allow for authentic leadership to flourish and be more evident in the organisation.