Business Research

As the Leader Goes, So Goes the Company

If a leader is ethical, does that behavior affect his organization? If so, how? And if he leads by serving others first, how are employees affected? And are ethical leadership and servant leadership connected in the behaviors they produce?

Mitch Neubert and Dawn Carlson studied those questions as part of research they conducted last summer on ethics and servant leadership. They discovered that ethical leadership does indeed lead to better performance in the workplace and that servant-leadership leads to more creative behavior on the part of employees.

Neubert holds the Chavanne Chair of Christian Ethics in Business and his research focus is leadership and leading change. Carlson, who teaches management of organizational behavior, focuses primarily on work-life balance and work and family issues, but became interested in ethics while an undergraduate at Baylor, which has maintained a longtime emphasis on ethics in business. The two were asked to look at leadership models as a part of a grant that marketing professor Jim Roberts secured.

“He came to Mitch and me because we have the leadership/ethics expertise and we have worked together before,” Carlson said.
The research questions were driven in part by the “common moral core” of servant leadership and ethical leadership, Neubert said. “We wondered if they predict anything different (about workers), or if they had similar influences on the behavior of employees,” he said. He and Carlson surveyed 250 full-time workers over two time periods.

“Our focus was usually on the individual level,” Carlson said. “We surveyed the data and asked about leaders to understand how leaders influence individual behavior.”

They discovered that if the leader is ethical, this was associated with people performing their jobs well. The research also showed that although ethical and servant leadership are closely related, servant leadership created within employees “a sense of wanting to grow, wanting to gain, wanting to improve and help others,” Neubert said. “This resulted in them being more creative and helpful on the job.

Servant Leadership

A servant leader is one who serves, as the title implies, but the service is manifested in a high concern for the growth of other people.
“A servant leader may encourage employees to perform better, but also focuses on overall growth and development, and encouraging them to look outside themselves, to their team, or even the community,” Neubert said.

Ethical Leadership

An ethical leader had more of an impact on the employee having a “prevention mindset,” Neubert said. These employees were interested in minimizing risks and losses. Their performance was creative, too, but more focused on compliance with job expectations. They discovered that both ethical and servant leadership were somewhat related to counterproductive behavior in the workplace-that is, counterproductive behavior occurred less often with these types of leaders. But this effect was not as strong as expected.

Next, the two researchers will study contextual factors, Carlson said, such as the culture of an organization and how it plays a role. They will ask “If it’s an ethical culture, are people likely to act more ethically? Or are there certain policies that prevent the organization from working as well?”

Ethics and Leadership at Baylor

The business school’s emphasis on ethics includes professors coordinating with each other to talk about the ethics of a company in their different classes, said Carlson, who teaches in the graduate program.

“Once or twice a semester we find a company example and talk about ethics in our classroom. Last semester we used HP, and this semester, TXU. All the core professors across disciplines will discuss the same ethical case from varying points of view. You get a lot of different professors’ perspectives on the same thing,” she said.

In the competitive environment of business schools, ethics is where Baylor can add extra value, she added. “Students will come out of here having a framework, having thought about ethics. Given the world environment regarding ethics, we place a lot more emphasis on it in a classroom. ”

Business ethics has long been part of the identity at Baylor, Neubert said. That longtime focus is one of the reasons BusinessWeek ranked Hankamer School of Business third in the nation in ethics in its 2006 rankings of the top 50 undergraduate business schools.

“Our current emphasis is to try to leverage that strength and how we integrate it even more into our curriculum – at Baylor we are building on strengths rather than starting from scratch.”

Dr. Dawn Carlson
Dr. Dawn Carlson
Baylor University