Journal of Business Ethics (2008) 78:153–164
Ethical Stewardship – Implications for Leadership and Trust
ABSTRACT. Great leaders are ethical stewards who generate high levels of commitment from followers. In this paper, we propose that perceptions about the trustworthiness of leader behaviors enable those leaders to be perceived as ethical stewards. We define ethical stewardship as the honoring of duties owed to employees, stakeholders, and society in the pursuit of long-term wealth creation. Our model of relationship between leadership behaviors, perceptions of trustworthiness, and the nature of ethical stewardship reinforces the
Cam Caldwell is Assistant Professor of Management in the
School of Business at Weber State University. His research is primarily in the areas of organizational governance, ethical leadership and trust. He received his Ph.D from Washington
State University where he was Thomas S. Foley Graduate
Fellow. He has worked as a City manager, Human Resource
Director, and Management Consultants for 30 years.
Linda A. Hayes is Assistant Professor and Director of Program
Assessment in the School of Business Administration of the
University of Houston – Victoria. She received a B.S.M.E. from Clarkson University, an M.B.A from the University of
Houston, and a Ph.D from University of California at
Berkeley. Dr. Hayes has 15 years of industry experience.
Her research interests include decision-making, stakeholder behavior, business strategy. Dr. Hayes was a 1996 NASA
Faculty Fellow. Recently, she has published in the Journal of
Management Development, Journal of International Marketing, Business Horizons and International Journal of
Ranjan Karri is an Associate Professor of Management at the
University of Illinois at Springﬁeld. He received his Ph.D from Washington State University. His research interests are in the areas of entrepreneurship, ethics and strategy.
Patricia Martinez is a cum laude graduate of the University of
Houston – Victoria School of Business and works for the
Learning Education Achieve Dreams program at that University to help young people in the Victoria, Texas Community set and achieve personal and educational goals.
Linda A. Hayes
importance of ethical governance in dealing with employees and in creating organizational systems that are congruent with espoused organizational values.
KEY WORDS: stewardship, leadership, trust, ethics
From the biting whimsy of Adams (2005) daily Dilbert cartoons to the wickedly familiar corporate setting of Barry’s (2006) Company, the satirical insights of business humorists remind us that those who lead the modern organization need to be laughed at – lest we cry in frustration at the seemingly unending examples of mismanagement, ethical misconduct, and patterned dishonesty of a society currently dubbed ‘‘the cheating culture’’ (Callahan, 2004, p. 1). In contrast to the constant pessimism about what seem to be unending ethical blunders in business ethics, a small but growing group of management scholars have advocated that business leaders can help their companies create long-term wealth (Paine, 2003;
Pfeffer, 1998, 2005) and build organizational trust by governing as ethical stewards (Caldwell and Karri,
2005; Pava, 2003). Leaders, these scholars suggest, owe both society and those with whom they work a complex array of normative and instrumental duties that extend the obligations of governance beyond the scope commonly taught in today’s numbers-oriented business schools or valued by a Wall Street ﬁxated on the illusion of prosperity (Mintzberg, 2004).
In this article we focus on the role of the leader as ethical steward and offer ﬁve propositions about the nature of leadership and trust. Section one of this article brieﬂy describes the role of the ethical steward as a