The emergence and maintenance of ethical leadership in organizations: A question of embeddedness?
The present paper gives a review of empirical research on ethical leadership and shows that still little is known known about the contextual antecedents of ethical leadership. To address this important issue, a conceptual framework is developed that analyzes the embeddedness of organizational ethical leadership. This framework identifies manifest and latent contextual factors on three different levels of analysis - society, industry, and organization - which can affect the development and maintenance of ethical leadership. In particular, propositions are offered about how (1) societal characteristics, notably the implementation and the spirit of human rights in a society and societal cultural values of responsibility, justice, humanity, and transparency; (2) industry characteristics such as environmental complexity, the content of the organizational mandate, and the interests of stakeholder networks; and (3) intra-organizational characteristics, including the organizational ethical infrastructure and the ethical leadership behavior of a leader's peer group, influence the development and maintenance of ethical leadership in organizations. This list of factors is not exhaustive, but illustrates how the three levels may impact ethical leadership. Implications for managerial practice and future research are discussed.