Ethical Leadership as a Balance Between Opposing Neural Networks

Journal of Business Ethics 144 (4):755-770 (2017)
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In this article, we explore the implications of opposing domains theory for developing ethical leaders. Opposing domains theory highlights a neurological tension between analytic reasoning and socioemotional reasoning. Specifically, when we engage in analytic reasoning, we suppress our ability to engage in socioemotional reasoning and vice versa. In this article, we bring together the domains of neuroscience, psychology, and ethics, to inform our theorizing around ethical leadership. We propose that a key issue for ethical leadership is achieving a healthy balance between analytic reasoning and socioemotional reasoning. We argue that organizational culture often encourages too heavy a reliance on nonemotional forms of reasoning to arrive at moral judgments. As a result, leaders run the risk of suppressing their ability to pay attention to the human side of moral dilemmas and, in doing so, dehumanize colleagues, particularly subordinates, and clients.

Author Profiles

Shannon French
Case Western Reserve University
Anthony I. Jack
Case Western Reserve University


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