Ethical leadership is linked to employee engagement and performance

What is the role of ethics in leadership? Lee et al. (2019) conducted two studies (N = 92 and N = 195) in South Korea on how ethical leadership is related to employee performance and how it differs from some other leadership concepts.

Ethical leadership 

Lee et al. describe ethical leadership as the leader's display of normatively appropriate behavior with the aim of promoting the ethical behavior of followers. They can do this by communicating ethics-related messages; by modeling ethical behavior; by proactively seeking follower input on ethical issues; and by encouraging ethical behavior through consequences. 

Relationship with employee performance 

Unethical practices in companies in recent years have sparked attention to the topic of ethics in leadership. Although these unethical practices took place all over the world, research into the effects of ethical leadership has mainly taken place in Western countries. 

These Western studies have so far roughly shown that ethical leadership predicts positive aspects of employee outcomes, such as better task performance and more involvement in the organization. These results were not unambiguously found in Asian research. 

Role of organizational commitment and difference with other leadership concepts 

Lee et al. examined the relationships between ethical leadership, organizational commitment, task performance and turnover intention. They also examined to what extent these relationships went beyond those of the full-range leadership model (FRLM) and authentic leadership. Finally, they investigated whether the relationship between ethical leadership and performance came about through greater organizational commitment. 


The results Lee et al. found were: 

  1. The relationship between ethical leadership and desired employee outcomes was also found in this South Korean context 
  2. This relationship came about because employees felt more committed to the organization due to the ethical leadership behavior 
  3. The researchers found this relationship still when they controlled for FRLM and authentic leadership. Ethical leadership thus adds something unique.