Researchers at UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business are at the forefront of studying tenets of ethical leadership to foster better decision-making skills.
George Banks and Janaki Gooty, associate professors in Belk College’s Department of Management, have identified eight verbal ethical leadership behaviors (ELBs): corrective action, altruistic action, fair decision making, virtue signaling, upholding norms/rules, use of illustrative examples, two-way communication and rewarding moral behavior.
These ELBs were derived from reviewing thousands of statements by Fortune 500 CEOs, certain celebrity leaders and employees.
“The majority of ethical leadership research heavily focuses on perceptions of ethical leaders rather than the behaviors that cause those perceptions,” Banks said. “The result is a poor understanding of which behaviors to teach, as these ELBs are associated with the display of certain emotions such as pride, gratitude and righteous anger.”
Banks and Gooty, working in collaboration with a team of computer scientists, are developing an algorithm, Deep Ethics, which will objectively score emails, transcripts, audio and video for the use of ELBs. The researchers note this research will have broader reach, leading to more effective training and development for leaders, not just in the Charlotte community but nationally and internationally.
Inside UNC Charlotte reached out to Banks and Gooty to learn more about their work.
Why is it important to provide future business leaders a foundation in ethics?
Banks and Gooty: At UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business, we have the opportunity to teach important ethical values to literally the future business leaders of North Carolina and beyond. We’ve already had many alumni achieve top-level positions in large firms, including companies listed among the Fortune 500. The hope is that if we teach values along with ethical decision-making processes, we equip these future leaders with the tools they need to help all organizational stakeholders both internal and external. The COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement are examples of crises that we want future business leaders to be able to navigate ethically.
Can certain principles of ethics be taught (honesty, integrity, etc.)? If so how?
Banks and Gooty: There is research that shows the majority of people are honest and can make ethical decisions if “nudged” to do the right thing. In our ethics courses taught in the Belk College, at the undergraduate and graduate level, we teach principles such as honesty and integrity. However, we also teach students how to put themselves or others into positions to succeed. That is, where there are appropriate ethical nudges or reminders as well as removing conflicts of interest.
What are the implications of your research beyond business (for leaders in government or politics, nonprofit organizations, etc.)? How are the discoveries in your research and in this field applicable to professional roles and companies, particularly in training?
Banks and Gooty: The ethical leadership training we’re developing on campus certainly applies for leaders across organizational settings. For instance, we are currently conducting research that looks at how ELBs can help leaders, especially women and minorities, emerge as leaders in groups. While individuals often have a “prototype” for a leader in mind that may or may not fit one’s demographic characteristics, appropriate use of ELBs can signal competence, prosocial values and moral emotions that help everyone emerge as a potential leader.
The Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte has been driving business for more than 50 years. Established in 1970, the college offers outstanding business education programs at the undergraduate, master’s, doctoral and executive levels. The Belk College is one of the Carolinas’ largest business schools, with more than 4,600 students, 100-plus full-time faculty, and more than 33,000 alumni. Accredited by AACSB International, the college is committed to building strong partnerships in the greater Charlotte region and beyond as North Carolina's urban research business school. Learn more about how the Belk College is driving business at belkcollege.uncc.edu, and on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Photo of George Banks, Ph.D., and Janaki Gooty, Ph.D., was taken prior to COVID-19 restrictions.