12 Characteristics of an Ethical Leader to Adopt Today

July 27, 2023

Successful companies are often built on the foundation of compliance and ethical leaders are at the forefront of it all. Ethical leadership is all about leading in an ethical manner. Ethics, in short, is all about doing the right thing. But what qualities truly make an ethical leader? How can leaders learn to oscillate towards ethical leadership? What benefits does an ethical leader bring to the organization’s table? Dive right in to understand. 

Top Characteristics of an Ethical Leader 

The following are the most important characteristics of an ethical leader:

Leads by Example

An ethical leader doesn’t just talk the talk. They walk the walk by always doing the right thing. They express attitudes they expect their employees to uphold and maintain the same standards they communicate. They understand the value of everyone in the team (including themselves) when it comes to achieving the overall organizational goals.  

Integrity and Accountability 

Ethical leaders always put integrity first. They demonstrate good values through their words and actions. They act with integrity and value authenticity. An ethical leader will never blindside wrongdoings, even when doing so may be profitable for their company. By taking every step with integrity, they set a strong example for the workplace.


Ethical leaders strive to understand and empathize with their employees. They are empathetic listeners and communicators. They encourage their employees to do the right thing, listen patiently to their grievances, and help them journey through effective solutions. 

Driven by Values 

Ethical leaders make decisions based on the values of their organization. Although this may seem contradictory to a moral leader, the truth is, most ethical leaders only team with companies that are known for doing the right thing. By choosing ethical organizations, these leaders bring their own positive values to the organization, ultimately helping it succeed.

Operates with Fairness 

Ethical leaders value equality above everything else. They avoid biases of all kinds and treat everyone with fairness. They support and provide constructive feedback to everyone regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religion, marital status, and more. 

Aware of Implicit Biases 

A leader who values ethics isn’t afraid of detecting and analyzing their own unconscious biases to make clearer decisions. This helps them become more thoughtful towards every member of the team. By canceling implicit bias, they make every employee feel comfortable and appreciated. The result is often a happy and productive workplace. 

Isn’t Afraid of Open Communication

Ethical leaders place their organization in the hands of trust and honesty by openly communicating with their employees. By allowing everyone to put their issues on the table, they avoid hostility and distrust within the workplace. They are fully transparent and encourage feedback from their teams.


Regardless of how unpopular a fact may seem, an ethical leader doesn’t hold back from conveying it clearly. They believe in the power of transparency to create an atmosphere of trust. Through transparency and trust, they empower others to make the right decisions with the information they need. 

Zero Tolerance for Ethical Violations

A leader who values ethics never overlooks ethical violations. They expect their team to do what’s right every single time (not just when it’s advantageous for them). When faced with an ethical hiccup, they do everything in their power to bring it to its resolution.

Willingness to Evolve

Ethical leaders are lifelong learners. They constantly evolve and acclimatize to changes that frequently visit the business world. This includes adapting to new compliance laws, staying flexible with their organizational goals, and always steering their organization’s ship in the ethical direction.

Not Afraid of Admitting their Mistakes 

When mistakes emerge, ethical and thoughtful leaders don’t hesitate to hold themselves accountable. They don’t try to downplay the damage or come up with excuses. Instead, they put their egos aside, admit what happened, apologize if need be, and immediately begin to craft recovery plans. 

Why Is Ethical Leadership So Important?

Ethical leadership is the most powerful factor in promoting overall organizational growth. Here are some reasons ethical leaders are the essence of an organization:

Thriving Workplace Culture

Ethical leaders naturally have the power to inspire their teams to do their best. They help employees see themselves as a valuable part of the organization’s culture and operations. Workplace morale and productivity automatically increase when employees know they’re working with an ethical leader who cares about them.

Keeps Scandals at Bay

Every corporate scandal comes with heavy financial, reputational, and legal damages. By leading with empathy and keeping their doors open to their employees’ grievances, ethical leaders never let minor issues turn into major disasters. They adhere to the organization’s values and lead by example. This, in turn, keeps the company’s compliance image spotless. 

Improves Company Image

By acting with integrity, ethical leaders represent their organization in a positive light. Every decision they make is with the aim to improve the well-being of employees and customers alike. This makes the company operate with a sense of what is right. A great brand image then attracts valuable talent, customers, and investors. 

Increases Loyalty

Customers and employees stick with companies led by ethical leaders. These leaders operate with fairness and equality. When employees know they will be treated well every step of the way, they will naturally not look elsewhere. 

Promotes Better Emotional Well-Being

A toxic workplace can severely hurt employee productivity levels. By demonstrating their social responsibility and valuing mental health, ethical leaders push employees towards healthier work habits. As a result, employees not only escape burnout but also perform well on their personal and professional fronts. 

A Final Word 

The idea of ethical leadership may sound lofty. However, it’s more easily achievable than you might think. Leaders must define their own values before they set out to change the world. They must consider the values they grew up with, treat others the way they want to be treated, and never hesitate to lend a helping hand to those that are struggling. 

Being an ethical leader is also critical to cultivate a robust culture of compliance. Ethico can become the perfect compliance partner for leaders who value ethics and understand their company’s need to adhere to compliance laws and regulations. From staying on top of ever-evolving compliance laws to promoting a lasting speak-up culture, Ethico is the one-stop shop for all your compliance needs!