The Need for Ethical Leadership in a Global Economy

In a scathing critique of global capitalism and its effects on social, economic, and environmental justice, Poff (2010) lays out the argument for a realignment of values. The problems associated with global capitalism, Poff argues, are numerous. It threatens the environment in order to support the massive production of material goods, its problems are being used by charismatic extremists to win over the populations of developing nations, and the tenets of consumerism are distorting values towards possession of material goods over quality relationships and meaningful pursuits. How, then, is the world to shift away from such a destructive course? Through a massive realignment of values; championed by ethical leaders in business, education, and government.

According to Poff, we are at war with our current value system. This system tells us: “that we are what we wear, what we drive, where we live and that what we own reflects what we are worth” (Poff, 2010, p. 10). She warns that these values have been reflected in business, where recently leaders of organizations like Enron and Worldcom have chased the drive for profits to an excess that breaks with ethical norms. Given that leadership to a large extent influences organizational culture and normative behavior, it is important that global leaders have a strong moral and ethical compass.


This is particularly important as global organizations get larger and larger  – they have more reach to influence employees, citizen populations, and the environment then they once did. To ensure a just and sustainable future, we need to focus on values and education to establish global leaders that are ethical.

To accomplish this, Poff outlines the importance of global ethical leadership. In ethical leadership, “the key internal driver is a commitment to integrity and excellence as part of the core values of the individual leader” (Poff, 2010, p. 12). However, leaders (just like people) don’t wake up one day with a strong set of ethics – they must be taught. To create global ethical leaders, Poff argues that it is the responsibility of universities to “educate future leaders in the knowledge of ethics and the moral responsibility of leadership” (Poff, 2010, p. 12). To do this, universities must retain the key goal of establishing a curriculum that is grounded in ethics. One possible way to do this on a global scale is to include universal human rights education and to avoid moral relativism.


In leadership education, Poff outlines that transformational leadership and servant leadership are both promising in terms of orienting future leaders towards an ethical leadership compass. Regardless, the bottom line is this: to create the leaders that will take us into a just and sustainable future, institutions must start educating them now, and in doing so, must instill future leaders with integrity, trustworthiness, honesty, service, and a commitment to virtue.


Poff, D. C. (2010). Ethical leadership and global citizenship: Considerations for a just and sustainable future. Journal of Business Ethics, 93, 9-14.