Moral Recovery and Ethical Leadership

J Bus Ethics. 2022;175(3):485-497. doi: 10.1007/s10551-020-04658-3. Epub 2020 Oct 22.


Research on ethical leadership generally falls into two categories: one celebrates individual leaders and their 'authentic' personalities and virtuous stewardship of organizations; the other decries toxic leaders or individuals in positions of power who exhibit 'dark' personality traits or dubious morals. Somewhere between these extremes, leadership is 'done' by imperfect human beings who try to avoid violating their own ethical standards while at the same time navigating the realities of social and organizational life. This paper discusses the concept of 'Moral Recovery' as an ethical leadership process that begins in moral failure, but enables eventual personal, organizational, and social change. It builds on the concept of 'Moral Injury' from the work of the psychiatrist Johnathan Shay and refers to the experiences of armed service personnel traumatized by experiences where either they, or their leaders, violated their own values. 'Morally injured' parties recover their sense of wellbeing through engaging with restorative communal actions which address the social causes of unethical practices. The process of Moral Recovery requires restorative communal actions which address the social causes of unethical practices. This paper will outline the concept of 'Moral Recovery' as a form of practical ethical leadership and change. It will illustrate its relevance to ethical leadership practice with reference to one high-profile case; Ray Anderson of Interface. As this paper is primarily conceptual, avenues for future research are identified, and implications for teaching practice are discussed.

Keywords: Communal responses; Ethical leadership; Guilt; Moral injury; Moral recovery; Reparation; Social action.