Posted: February 17th, 2022

Moral Management Leadership Ethical Model


The practice of ethics is fundamentally focused on doing the right thing at all times (Van Wart, 2014,1a). Whereas the understanding and aspirations of ethical leadership could be clear, its optimal practice could be challenging, especially in cases where involved individuals do not have a comprehensive understanding of the most righteous step in prevailing contexts. In essence, effectively navigating a dilemma between right and wrong or right versus right in ethical situations requires a comprehensive framework. Ethical frameworks seek to leverage existing values, morals, and ethical principles in aiding the formulation of righteous, fair, justly, transparent and equitable decisions (Sealy, 2018). Ethical practices in public administration have been contentious since time immemorial due to the ever existence of competitively overlapping stakeholders’ interests amidst limited resources and opportunities. Nonetheless, it is unequivocal that ethics is a bedrock of good governance. In cases involving Christians serving in public institutions, the onus for ethical practices is even higher. This study will examine the five ethical models proposed by Montgomery Van Wart, critique the meaning of spiritual-servant leadership in public service and explore a biblically teaching on ethical leadership.

The Five Ethical Models

The Virtuous Leadership Ethical Model 

The virtuous leadership model is also called the personal integrity model Van (Wart, 2014,1b). The virtuous leadership ethical model emphasizes the essential need for holistic and consistent integrity practices. In this regard, integrity is manifested through the individual practices of honesty, fairness, trustworthiness, prudence, and conscientiousness. Under honesty, ethical leaders are expected to tell the truth in public, in private, when it suits them and when it does not favor them. Similarly, trustworthiness is considered critical in enhancing commitment, consistency, and credibility towards adhering to established ethical standards (Wart, 2014,1b). The contributions of fairness to the virtuous leadership ethical model revolves around comprehensive knowledge, in-depth understanding, and diligently following existing rules when making decisions. The principle of equity is also promoted through the fairness hallmark. In the context of conscientious virtue, this ethical model emphasizes the elements of hard work, industriousness, diligence, fortitude, discipline, and accountability at personal, professional, and organizational levels (Gill, 2020). On the other hand, the virtue of prudence is critical in developing and referencing appropriate knowledge and information in making wise ethical decisions. 

In principle and theory, the virtuous leadership ethical model provides a holistic and robust foundation for implementing ethical behaviors. However, in practical situations, the virtuous leadership ethical model can degenerate into a simplified list of aspired ethical vision if it is not coherently and substantively implemented (Gill, 2020). Finding the appropriate mix, focus, and commitment across the five virtues through training and reinforcement are almost always problematic, especially in public administration. Unless these ethical virtues are intrinsically and instinctively cultivated, this model is likely to face the obstacle of mediocrity when dealing with the public since it can only thrive in total compliance (Van Wart, 2014,1a). That is, the virtuous leadership model presents ethics as a zero-sum situation whose success or failures can only be skewed in totality to one direction. 

Moral Management Leadership Ethical Model 

At the core of the moral management leadership ethical model emphasizes that institutional expectations concerning ethics are understood, manifested, and enforced (Wart, 2014,1b). Even though there might not exist regulatory or legislative documentation on an institution’s moral stance, supportive evidence on their existence could be found in standard documents such as code of conduct, standard operating procedures, and oath of office. In essence, the moral management leadership ethical model takes a low road approach in the handling of ethical issues (Sealy, 2018). By virtue of an individual occupying a specific position within an organization, such person is expected to understand and implement the institution’s stand towards contentious ethical issues such as conflict of interest, corruption, and nepotism.

It is imperative that concerns on the ethical performance of leaders, especially in the public administration, could only arise in this model in hindsight. The absence of straightforward and proactive ethical guidelines in the moral management leadership model translates that individuals can only be held accountable for unethical practice if they are discovered, or their actions are out of compliance (Sealy, 2018). If there is insufficient leadership goodwill when establishing regulatory frameworks on public ethics, there is a higher likelihood that intentional loopholes will be left for exploitation. For example, advanced democracies have found ways of hiding corruption under the disguise of lobbying and masquerading nepotism with affirmative action (Van Wart, 2014,1a). The poor implementation of moral management leadership ethical model is responsible for most of the leading scandals in the public and private sector worldwide. Nonetheless, in situations where there is uttermost goodwill, good faith and due diligence, the moral management leadership model could form a rich and normalized institutional ethical culture.

Professionally Grounded Leadership Ethical Model

According to this model, professionals are responsible for leveraging their acquired knowledge, experiences, exposure, and understanding to determine the most righteous and ethical actions (Wart, 2014,1b). Professionall-grounded leadership ethical model relies on an established code of conduct to guide and regulate appropriate practices within a community of shared identity. Regardless of the nature of the profession, this model alludes to established principles to guide the actions of involved members (Downe et al. 2016). For example, there could be guiding ethical principles within the legal practice on marketing the services provided. The professionally grounded leadership model thrives on training and defined sources of authority (Downe et al., 2016). The sentiment that whoever is given more is expected perfectly matches the professionally grounded ethical model since more experienced and informed individuals are supposed to showcase the highest standards of ethical practices. 

The professionally grounded leadership ethical model presents significant strengths in making the observance of ethical practices proactive and discretionary (Christensen & Wright, 2018). Instead of reducing ethical practices to an essential compliance checklist, this model incorporates rationality in addressing emerging issues in the best way possible. It is also imperative to highlight that a professionally grounded leadership ethical model poses the challenges of being open-ended, costly, time-consuming, and relativity. The abstract component of this model means that it can easily be open to exploitations in the form of multiple interpretations depending on the befitting interests and objectives (Ellul, 2020). It is worth noting that the transition from imperial monarchial governance to defined constitutional rule was anchored upon eliminating open-ended, subjective, and relative regulations (Downe et al., 2016). Nonetheless, in situations where professions have evolved for extended durations and cultivated high levels of trust and goodwill, the professional leadership ethical model can be both efficient and effective. 

Authentic and Positive Leadership Ethical Model

The authentic and positive leadership model emphasizes self-awareness, transparency, self-improvement, openness, and optimism (Wart, 2014,1b). The model focuses on critical components in formulating effective and successful leadership. In this regard, authentic leaders understand themselves in the context of values, emotions, and cognitions (Christensen & Wright, 2018). Therefore, ethical practices of fairness, accountability, respect for others, trustworthiness, and credibility are synonymous with the authentic and positive leadership model. Besides, authentic leaders also depict higher levels of emotional intelligence in their feedback systems and communications approaches. The authentic leadership model of ethics amplifies an individual’s contributions towards building acceptable social norms and depicting behaviors modeled by the rest of the population (Christensen & Wright, 2018). In this regard, ethical conduct creates an environment where emotional health, moral awareness, and positive energy thrive. 

Nevertheless, the authentic and positive leadership ethical model has major philosophical and methodical flaws (Wart, 2014,1b). At its best, the model is euphoric about what ethical practices could look like in private and public institutions. It can easily be argued that the amorphous description of authentic and positive leaders depicts them as almost flawless. By extension, this has a significant implication on fronting the model as having unhealthy and unnatural levels of optimism. Whereas positivity could be delightful when applied in appropriate doses, excess manifestation could have diminishing marginal effects by cultivating cultish, superficial, or cliquish behaviors. In public administration, this could mean promoting superficiality, inclination towards egoistic behaviors, and encouraging naïve idealism (Van Wart, 2014,1a). One of the reasons why public administration in most developing nations has been less efficient and impactful when compared to leading developed nations is the holistic depiction of high-level public officers as all righteous, authentic, and standard of excellence. Unfortunately, if not well managed, such leaders cultivate sycophancy perceptions that disregard standard ethical frameworks. 

Transformational Leadership Ethical Model 

As an ethical model, transformative leadership is concerned with the charismatic persuasion to change by addressing the majority’s needs, championing futuristic prosperity, and transcending society’s needs over personal interests (Wart, 2014,1b). In other words, transformation leaders pursued ethical standards while envisioning bigger-than-life aspirations and reforms. Iconic public service leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi feature under this model of ethical transformation. It is imperative to recognize that the ethical model coincides with Heifetz’s adaptive leadership model by emphasizing the need to build consensus when addressing contentious issues, cultivating trust, encouraging stewardship, and promoting strategic planning (Sealy, 2018). It is benignant to note that the transformative leadership ethical model integrates normative and managerial values, making it appropriate for the public service and private sector. In public service, transformative leaders are likely to earn the reputation of having credible character and instigating fundamental ethical reforms (Van Wart, 2014,1a). 

Notwithstanding, the transformative leadership model of cultivating ethics poses a couple of weaknesses. Transformative ethical leadership can only be impactful if it takes extreme or outlier positions. In this regard, transformative ethical leadership has to have sensational elements at its conception. It can also be argued that the model promotes heroism over consequentialism (Sealy, 2018). For example, whereas Woodrow Wilson’s role in the formation of the League of Nations was considered a milestone in international political transformation, the inability of the United States to join the body had significant consequences on the failures of the institution body, especially in preventing the occurrence of the second world war. Furthermore, it is also imperative to recognize that the manifestation of transformative ethical leadership in public service is not a definite mandate. It is an individual leader’s discretion to pursue the ethical transformation. 

Critique of the Spiritual-Servant Leader in Public Service

Spiritual-servant leadership falls under the social responsibility leadership ethical framework. The social responsibility leadership ethical framework is founded on spiritual leadership, servant leadership, and corporate social responsibility. Due to the nature of work dynamics in public service, the latter is not amplified compared to the first two (Lee, 2021). Servant leadership purposes on illuminating that it is a privilege for persons in authority to serve the people they are leading. In mimicking Jesus Christ’s teachings of humility preceding empowerment, servant leadership thrives when the few individuals in authority can identify and resonate with the issues affecting the majority demographic (Manning, 2017).

To a large extent, servant leadership in public service shares similarities with the virtuous leadership model. Ethical servant leaders in public service are expected almost always to put the interests of others first, especially subordinates and the less privileged. Whereas implementing this expectation is not impossible in the public service, its implications could essentially re-engineer the traditional understanding of involved institutions (Van Wart, 2014,1a). Historically, public institutions operate through a well-established centralized bureaucratic system. In principle, the servant leadership approach advocates for a holacratic circle of administration which essentially means independence and discretion to precede and prioritize public issues and functions. Unfortunately, this would mean inconsistency in public service standards, especially in cases where different levels of professional experiences and competing public interests are involved. 

On the other hand, spiritual leadership is thrusted on the belief that authority is derived from those who need assistance or those being assisted. Spiritual leadership takes a multifaceted stakeholders approach at an organizational level where authority is wielded through daily engagements. Therefore, spiritual leadership in public service could be manifested in the form of diversity practices, steward practices, wellness and assistance programs, and bereavement programs (Manning, 2017). The practicality of spiritual leadership in public service is controversial, especially in cases that encourage the transcendence of selfishness and innate spiritual connections among individuals with versatile backgrounds. Advocating for ethical altruism in the public service requires additional resources in motivating individuals to embrace spiritual leadership. This is notwithstanding that more significant inclusion in public service surmounts complexity, expenses, and time spent in decision making.

Spiritual and servant leaders in the public service are expected to engage in emotional healing and emotional labor by consistently showing emotional intelligence on contentious and divisive social, psychological, and welfare issues (Manning, 2017). At a national scale, this could entail increasing policy actions and resource allocations to social welfare and community development initiatives. The major ethical issue resulting from such actions on the public service is its exclusion implications on the secular and other marginalized groups. Skewing the public service towards spiritual and servant leadership could lead to excessive compassion and substitution that might end up jeopardizing the virtuous practices of hard work, accountability, and diligence (Lee, 2021). 

Christian Leadership and Ethical Codes

In 2 Timothy 2:1-2, Apostle Paul echoes some of the critical components of ethical Christian leadership (Lewa et al., 2018). Paul emphasizes that the grace of Jesus Christ should be sufficient in strengthening Christians’ faith to act as witnesses and teachers of appropriate spiritual conduct. From a Christian point of view, wrongdoing is essentially understood as a violation of ethics hence modeled with sin. Apostle Paul aligned his Christian philosophy by declaring that his love for Jesus Christ induced him to elude sin. Therefore, Christian ethics is essentially the proclamation of the gospel. In 1 Cor. 11:30 and Hebrews 12:5-11, willful sinning in the form of unethical practices is highlighted as displeasing to God. Christian leadership considers ethics as the product of individuals’ actions, attitudes, motives, and emanating results (Lewa et al., 2018). Besides, ethical Christian leadership should reflect Biblical teachings, leverage existing knowledge and appropriately adapt to prevailing circumstances. Ethical Christian leadership should also manifest aspects of the human spirit, consciences, and guidance of the holy spirit. 

It is important to note that most ethical models’ core values emulsify the biblical teachings on appropriate Christian leadership (Gregory et al., 2019). Issues concerning morality, virtues and ethical behaviors are the bedrock of Christian leadership. Almost all the ethical leadership models have borrowed a leaf from the Christian teachings on upholding the righteous code of conduct (Kirkpatrick, 2019). Christian teachings on ethics are straightforward on the need to emulate Jesus Christ and God in pursuing virtue, dignity, and righteousness. In essence, there could never be a higher moral authority than God’s directives on decent living in the form of actions, thoughts, intentions, and motives. Therefore, it is only logical that Christian leadership should emulate God’s teachings on ethics (Lewa et al., 2018). Even though there have been emergent models on ethical leadership, most of them are not as exhaustive, comprehensive, and robust as Christians’ expectations on upright leadership. Instead, most of them perform a critical role of complementing existing Christian literature on desirable ethical conduct. By surpassing the test of time, Biblical teachings on ethical leadership continue to reign supreme as a beacon of ethical aspirations, which humanity will continue striving towards (Gregory et al., 2019). 

Application of a Biblical Passage on Ethics

Colossians 1: 9-11 embodies some of the greatest teachings on ethics. This except from Apostle Paul’s address to the congregation at Colossae, highlights the prayer to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will such that the spiritual wisdom and understanding are enhanced. In verse 10, Paul noted that the grace of God should aid the Colossians to live a life that is pleasing to God. Apostle Paul uses this scripture to reemphasize that righteousness is close to Godliness (Lewa et al., 2018). It is not coincidental that most of the iconic Christian faith figures have consistently reinforced the essential need to stand for ethics, righteousness, justice, equity, and integrity (Kirkpatrick, 2019). Assuming that all public service leaders were to embrace the teachings of Colossians 1: 9-11, unethical practices are likely to diminish since they are against Godliness. 


Christian leadership and public service ethics initiatives can only thrive with sufficient goodwill and good faith. By Christian standards, the pursuit of equity, justice, righteousness, transparency and fairness should not be an ethical dilemma. Instead, ethical leadership should promote the development of a culture that will normalize the practice of high standards of conduct and behaviors within the society. Historically, leaders in public service who have exhibited consistency of upright conduct and behaviors at an individual level have also successfully impacted their institutions, prevented escalation of problems, and minimized the explicit use of ethical regulations. 

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