Ethical Approach to Leadership

Jul 26, 2018 | Uncategorized

I’ve always felt that before you can lead a team you must first understand human behavior and specifically what motivates a typical team member. In Daniel Pink’s book Drive he summarizes studies performed by psychologists Harry Harlow and Edward Deci in 1971 and another study that carried out by professors at MIT in 2017.  He reported that team members perform best when they can obtain

(1) Autonomy: the opportunity to self-direct their work.

(2) Mastery: the opportunity to get better and become subject matter experts in a chosen area of expertise.

(3) Purpose: the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of the common good.

At Project Management Experts (PME) we conducted our own informal study and concluded that compensation does not generate the same excitement as that which comes from being recognized for performing a job well done.  In addition, we found that performance is higher when team members are:

(1) confident and passionate about their work
(2) their personal life is going well, and

(3) they feel they are paid fairly.
It seems logical that we must focus on our team and help them meet their career goals if we are to expect them to meet project and organizational goals.  To address we must choose a people based, ethical approach to leadership that puts our team and our customers first.  Robert Greenleaf, the founder of the modern servant leadership movement stated in 1970 that:

 “the servant-leader is servant first.” By that he meant that that the desire to serve, the “servant’s heart,” is a fundamental characteristic of a servant-leader. It is not about being servile, it is about wanting to help others. It is about identifying and meeting the needs of colleagues, customers, and communities.[1]

Servant leadership functions best when it is supported by a strategy and a management culture that supports this approach.  A culture that embraces truth as standard operating procedure; a culture that encourages accountability and recognizes mistakes as learning experiences and not career ending events; a culture that collaborates instead of mandates, listens instead of dictates, and always leads with moral authority. A servant leader is never afraid of saying “NO” this is simply not right or ethical.

A servant leader embraces that he/she does not own but respects various perspectives.  He/she listens, collaborates, and communicates in search of truth.  A servant leader has vision and see’s consequences to all choices.  When we manage this way, we work to understand our team members and position them to achieve their goals and subsequently the goals of the customer. Servant leaders believe that this approach, coupled with good business sense, will lead to fair and reasonable profitability.


Here are some recommendations to help you move forward:

  1. Recognize and reward passion, commitment, teamwork, customer service…. not just project success.
  2. Look to hire (or acquire) team members that have demonstrated “great team member traits”. Recruit team members with positive attitudes first and technical skills second.
  3. Seek to understand the whole person not just the “worker.” Get to know your team members on a personal level and understand what drives them.
  4. Pay workers fairly and consider other ways to motivate them, such as independent work, training, recognition of expertise, and the opportunity to share in the project’s success.
  5. Always communicate and facilitate honestly and ethically.


To learn more about servant leadership, consider enrolling in our 1 day course on Managing Team Members Using Servant Leadership.


[1] Taken from the Definition of Servant Leadership:

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