Ethical leaders are effective leaders: NZ public integrity expert


Leaders cannot stop at setting up integrity systems within their agency — they must model good behaviour too. Luckily ethical leadership enhances perceptions of competency, says integrity expert Michael Macaulay.

Integrity and effective leadership tend to be treated as separate issues, but perhaps they’re more closely linked than we realise.

Research shows that leaders who are seen as having high levels of integrity are also perceived to be better at their jobs, says public policy integrity expert Associate Professor Michael Macaulay, director at the Institute of Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University in Wellington.

He will address next month’s corruption prevention and integrity conference organised by Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, speaking on a panel about ethical leadership.

“Ethical leadership is important primarily because it’s also effective leadership,” he said in a IBAC podcast last year.

“There’s no shortage of studies to show that the more integrity we think our leaders have, the more effective we find them as well. Even more importantly, though, maybe, is that the behaviours that ethical leaders demonstrate are those that we all now recognise as effective behaviours as well.

“In years gone by, the good leader has been seen as someone who is very task-orientated, who can get the job done so on and so forth, but I think now there is a much better understanding that the way in which we get the job done as well also matters. And to be clear in your expectations, to be supportive, to display empathy, emotional intelligence — these are all the hallmarks of ethical leadership.”

He stresses the importance of leaders modelling good behaviours, as much as setting up strong systems, in building a culture of integrity.

“There are all sorts of things leaders can do,” he says.

“They can set up integrity management systems to make sure there is effective monitoring and evaluation, to make sure there is ethical competencies built into a performance framework, to make sure there are appropriate rewards and sanctions.

“There are also a number of behaviours they can model such as maintaining an outward-orientated people focus, being open and communicating, having good listening skills and a very strong sense of your own personal accountability.”

There are three key ways in which leaders can set the tone from the top, he believes.

“One is making sure there are very clear expectations made. You make sure everyone in your organisation knows what is expected of them. Two, you’ve got to make those expectations realistic. You’ve got to make sure that people have got something they can actually achieve and find attainable and so they’ll feel rewarded and intrinsically motivated on top of that,” says Macaulay.

“Number three, and probably the most important … is that you mirror those behaviours yourself. There’s nothing that causes unrest more than the smell of hypocrisy or double standards. Nobody likes a leader who says one thing but does something completely different.”

Macaulay is scheduled for a panel discussion at the IBAC Corruption Prevention and Integrity conference next month, titled ‘The buck stops here — ethical leadership and cultural change’. Other panelists include Victorian Department of Education and Training Secretary Gill Callister, Victoria Police Deputy Commission Wendy Steendam and Bayside City Council CEO Adrian Robb.