Character is the Road to Ethical Behavior

Ethical decision making is a by-product of one’s character development. As a leader, the development of one’s character is vital to how one approaches and operates as a leader. For leadership models such as transformational, authentic, and servant, quality character development is a pivotal element of operating as a leader in one of these models (Northouse, 2013). Leadership is not about the position one holds, it is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion and a shared vision of the good from which the character of the leader operates (Ciulla, 2014). A leader uses ethics as a standard of determining what is right and wrong in relation to actions and volitions (Ciulla, 2014).

In leadership, character matters (Bass and Steidlmeier 1999, p. 182) and it would seem as though character begets ethical decision making rather than the other way around. The quality of a leader appears to only be measured in terms of what a leader intends, values, believes in, or stands for, which are results of one’s character (Ciulla, 2014). This may be why the Apostle Paul chose to give virtuous character traits as fruits of the spirit rather than a list of actions a person led by the Spirit should perform (Gal. 5:16-26). The assertion made by Paul is that if one’s character is developed in accordance to the virtues of the Spirit, then the behavioral decisions would follow the ethical guidelines reflective of a disciple of Jesus Christ. By adopting virtues into the development of one’s character, there is a natural translation into actions and outcomes (Ciulla, 2014).


Bass, B. M., & Steidlmeier, P. (1999). Ethics, character, and authentic transformational leadership behavior. The Leadership Quarterly, 10(2), 181–217.

Ciulla, J. B. (Ed.). (2014). Ethics, the Heart of Leadership (3 edition). Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice (6th ed). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

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