Collaborative Leadership Blog

Ethical Leadership in Uncertain Times

We live in uncertain times. There is fear, anxiety, division, chaos, and constant change. The people who work with us bring this fear and uncertainty into the workplace, hoping upon hope that there is some stability, and that they can find meaning in what they do. What port is there for our ship in this storm?

I believe that in all this volatility there is one safe port, and it is in our collective conscience as manifested by the principles and behaviors of ethical leadership. In our workplaces, we can go to that place called “shared values and principles”, our sense of what is right, what is bedrock. We can remind ourselves that principles are immutable truths, that like a lighthouse, they can guide our ship into port and safety.

In volatile times, we may turn to our formal leadership to help us realize that we still stand on solid ground; that we still make a difference; that we matter. Our leaders can be a beacon, reminding us that what we all stand for is good and right and true. That discrimination against our fellow workers is wrong and will not be tolerated. That everyone has an equal voice in the affairs of the business. That everyone owns the vision and the future. That in our diversity there is strength. That we are tolerant of our differences and revel in the creativity that comes when we disagree.

Ethical leadership reminds us that we are all ethical leaders in our own right, who have the power to speak up, to support and engage others, and to hold people accountable for behavior that does not align with the sacrosanct principles of respect, trust, honor, dignity, integrity, and responsibility. Ethical leadership reminds us that no one is above these principles, no matter what their title or position.

We live in a time when we need to find our better angels in the haze of today’s confusion, when we need to create and sustain workplace cultures that empower the human spirit, and when we need to reach deep down inside each one of us to summon the strength to withstand this adversity.

It is the wisdom of the ages that this too shall pass, and when it does, it will be our adherence to our ethics and ethical conduct that will be our testament to the indomitable human spirit.


*Dr. Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; he is an award-winning consultant and author, and Managing Partner of The Marshall Group, LLC. You can contact him at: or  919.265.9616