Ethics in relationship to power structures

In trying to understand the power structures in a certain culture, it is important to understand the concept of leadership. Leadership has been defined differently by scholars however the definitions still point to the term, leadership. For example, Gary Yukl (2006) has defined leadership as the process or practice of persuading others to recognize or understand and accept what requires to be done and how to do it, and the procedure of helping individual and joint efforts to achieve shared goals (Yukl, 2006). On the other hand, Peter Northouse (2010) has defined leadership a process whereby an individual impacts a group of persons to accomplish a common objective (Northouse, 2010).

On the other hand, the definitions between the term power and leadership might sound a little bit different, however the meanings tend to be similar to some extent. Power can be defined as the skill to influence others to trust, act, or to value as those in power aspire them to or to support, authenticate, or approve current beliefs, behaviors, or ideals (Harrington, 2002). Just as leadership, power influences others to do something. Further, power is also a social force that permits select individuals to rally others; to bring others together to act and melt away opposition to leaders’ authority (Harrington, 2002). Power and leadership are however different since power reveals itself in some forms; among these are: professional power, reward power, genuine power, referent power, and forced power. Other forms of power comprise charismatic power, tradition power and information power (Harrington, 2002).

Ethics generally tries to explain or reveal what morals and values are found suitable by members of the society and persons themselves. Essentially, ethics aids us to resolve what is right and good or wrong and bad in any particular situation. In connection with leadership, ethics is about who leaders are, their main character and what they do, their activities and behaviors (Northouse chapter 16). Basically, ethical theories can be grouped into two wide classifications: those theories associated with leaders’ behavior and those associated to leaders’ personality. For those theories associated to conduct, there are two kinds: those that are associated with leaders’ conduct and their consequences and those that are associated to the rules or responsibilities that prescribe leaders’ conduct (Northouse chapter 16). The theories that are connected to consequences are referred to as teleological theories. These theories stress whether a leader’s activities, performance, and/or conduct have positive results.

The case where the New York state Sen. Malcolm Smith and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran were arrested is an example of teleological ethical approaches. Ethical egoism defines the actions of leaders that are meant to attain the greatest good for the leader. New York State Sen. Malcolm Smith decided to bribe leaders of Republican Party county committees around the New York City in an effort to run for the mayor’s office. This was clearly for his greater good as a leader. On the other hand, Councilman Dan Halloran in actual fact supported the move by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes. This two situations clearly reveal ethical egoism which is in actual fact not ethical.

As a leader, it is ethical to practice utilitarianism which refers to the activities of leaders that are intended to attain the utmost good for the largest number of individuals (Northouse chapter 16). The U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara practiced utilitarianism by charging the six officials which was essentially for the greater good of the citizens of New York. Altruism largely describes the actions or the activities of leaders that are intended to establish concern for others’ interests, even though these interests are conflicting to the leader’s self-interests (Northouse chapter 16). This type of ethical approach was not practiced by these six leaders since they acted only for their self-interests.

In the case in which New York State Sen. Malcolm Smith was charged with, the ethically proper course of action would have been to go before the people with his ideals and show them what he could do as a mayor and also show them what positive outcomes had been realized during his term in office. Instead he opted to bribe. In the situation concerning the New York City Councilman Dan Halloran and the other four leaders, the correct and ethical approach would have been to put the interests of the citizens of New York first. However, they only looked after their own interests by allowing the New York state Sen. Malcolm Smith to bribe his way into office.

This situation that happened in the state of New York shows that corruption among the officials is expected. However, it would not be right to postulate that corruption is a culture that is accepted in the state of New York but it is nevertheless expected.

Sen. Malcolm Smith and Councilman Dan Halloran’s behaviours would have been unethical in the private sector since members in the private sector behave in an altruistic manner in contrast to behaving in a manner that is founded on ethical egoism. Leaders in the private sector put their followers first, their main reason is to support and mentor the subordinates. To them, service to others is demonstrated through behaviors for instance, mentoring, empowering and building teams.


Harrington, J. (2002), Power: Definition, Typology, Description, Examples, and Implications. Retrieved on 1st February 2016 from

Northouse, P. (2010), Leadership: Theory and Practice. Sage publications, Los Angeles.

Yukl, G. (2006), Leadership in Organizations. Pearson/Prentice Hall, New Jersey.

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