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Ethical Leadership: Communicating Ethics In The Workplace

Managers may need to become more aware of how group members differentiate between high and low leader-member dyadic communication colleagues.

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Author, Hassan Abu Bakar

Aside from peripheral mentions of the role of two-way communication, ethical leadership studies have largely overlooked the foundational role communication plays in enacting leadership style and articulating related group member behavioural expectations. It is important to note that employee perceptions of ethical leadership among group members create an environment conducive to the interpersonal comparison that may lead each employee to be aware of her or his relative standing in a workgroup. 

Thus, a group member’s perception of his or her relative standing in their workgroup is likely to be formed in large part by how they view their unique leader-member relationship in contrast to the leader-member relationships experienced by their peers. 

Moreover, since employees endeavour to develop closer relationships with their leader than their average workgroup colleague, perceptions of their leader-member relationship may also influence their work attitudes and behaviours in organizations. This is, social comparison is likely to provide a new perspective on whether ethical leadership is associated with leader-member dyadic communication behaviour, and in turn, help to explain group members’ cognitive, affective, and motivational processes. 

The fundamental role of communication in ethical leadership is when employees feel that decisions have been communicated clearly and that their manager interacts with each follower equitably, employees tend to see their leaders as ethical actors. Thus, leaders do not necessarily have to exchange with each employee equally, but rather fairly based on member contribution and employees will interpret this behaviour as ethical. 

In Malaysia workplace, a particular form of communication behaviour is manifested in the unique dyadic communication relationship between a leader and each workgroup member. Thus, leader-member dyadic communication behaviour based on the cultural norm of budi bicara can be viewed as a manifestation of the socially and culturally appropriate interactive exchanges that occur between leaders and members. In this regard, leader-member dyadic communication behaviour in Malaysia workplace can be referred to as the extent to which a group member expresses his or her emotions, feelings, and thoughts, and manifests kindness in his/her evaluations of interactions or conversations with his/her group leader. 

Now, the question is how communication and ethical leadership is connected? First, it appears that group members may be aware of their leader’s ethical behaviour and aware of their relative leader-member dyadic communication behaviour standing as compared with other group member’s relative leader-member dyadic communication behaviour in the workgroup. 

This is because relative leader-member dyadic communication behaviour standing represents an actual position of a group member in a set of differentiated leader-member relationships in the workgroup. Thus, managers may need to become more aware of how group members differentiate between high and low leader-member dyadic communication colleagues. 

Because communication differentiation plays a role in the social comparison process of leader-member relationships it may also be associated with the relative leader-member dyadic communication behaviour within the workgroup. This in no way an overstatement would suggest that a range of positive organizational outcomes may potentially emerge. But now the choice is with the CEO, managers and members of the board to implement budi in the workplace.

Dr Hassan Abu Bakar is an Associate Professor, Resident Faculty and a Director of the Institute for Leadership Innovation and Change at OYAGSB. Follow him on ResearchGate.

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OYAGSB or the Othman Yeop Abdullah Graduate School of Business, Universiti Utara Malaysia is one of the leading business schools in Asia. It offers Master of Business Administration (MBA), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Management (D Management) programmes for ambitious professionals, corporate executives and senior officials in their journey to formalise their knowledge at the highest level. To apply, visit OYAGSB’s official website.

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