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What characteristics lead to high ethical competence?

A strong internal moral compass and the ability to identify ethical dilemmas are factors that characterize leaders with high ethical competence. This is shown in a new NATO report in which researchers from the Swedish Defence University participate.

The report Factors Affecting Ethical Leadership examines which individual and organizational factors contribute to ethical leadership. Researchers from ten countries have been involved in this examination.

"Previous research indicates that it is the leader's behavior in ethical matters that largely shapes the organization's ethical climate, but there are few studies that examine what influences whether a leader will behave ethically or not, which is what we are looking at here," says Sofia Nilsson, Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Leadership and Command & Control at the Swedish Defence University.

The study was conducted using surveys of students in higher officer programs in six of the ten participating countries, including Sweden.

"Based on the survey responses, we have then been able to draw certain conclusions about what most influenced ethical leadership," says Sofia Nilsson.

Strong values and moral courage

One conclusion was that leaders with high ethical ability have a strong internal moral compass and can identify and manage ethical dilemmas.

"They are ethically sensitive and can handle difficult situations. They possess a form of moral courage and strong fundamental values on which they base this ability. They also believe that the organization shares their values," says Sofia Nilsson.

The project has also developed a model for ethical leadership based on previous research that has been tested in the NATO group.

"The results from the different countries point to similar outcomes regarding the characteristics that predict ethical leadership, which is interesting," says Magna Robertsson, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Leadership and Command & Control.

The project has also developed a large number of scenario exercises with moral dilemmas and conflicts to be used for training within NATO.

"We will now continue to work with this and conduct a smaller and revised study to collect material for a new ethics textbook for participants in the Higher Officer Program at the Swedish Defence University," says Magna Robertsson.

Josefin Svensson

Download and read the report

The report Factors Affecting Ethical Leadership is available for opern access download and has been selected as one of the NATO Highlights Publications 2023.

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