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Leadership and ethical decision making

Module information>

Academic Direction
UCL, Queen Mary University of London
Also part of
Global MBA
Modes of Study

This module prepares students for strategic leadership and transformational roles in organisations. Understanding what comprises ethical decision making is crucial to today’s leaders as both corporate and individual responsibility takes centre-stage in the public eye.

To take effective and ethical decisions, corporate leaders must understand the systems in which they lead and how they delimit the possibilities for decision-making. The purpose of the corporation as an entity which exists to provide value to its stakeholders is the starting point for ethical considerations. This module explores who these stakeholders may be and what role the corporation plays with these various groups and in society in general in a variety of national and cultural contexts.

Ethical decisions are made in the context of the personal values individuals bring to their leadership styles. This module builds on the leadership skills already developed in the core module and helps students recognise how their personal moral approaches effect and determine leadership approaches when confronted with ethical dilemmas. A key component to this module is the exploration of case studies and examples of real-world ethical dilemmas.

Topics covered

  • Introduction to Leadership and Ethical Decision-Making
  • Philosophical Frameworks, pt. 1
  • Philosophical Frameworks, pt. 2
  • Decision-Making Ethically
  • Institutionalising Business Ethics
  • Stakeholder Relationships
  • Employee Relationships
  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Globalisation & Ethical Decision
  • Higher Education and Ethical Leadership

Learning outcomes

If you complete the module successfully, you should be able to:

  • describe some the competing pressures of the corporate structure to decision-making for today’s leaders.
  • identify and evaluate the main approaches to philosophical ethics.
  • articulate and discuss examples of contemporary cross-cultural issues involved in ethical decision-making.
  • identify the ethical elements of complex business and management situations and analyze these from a variety of approaches.
  • construct a reasoned ethical argument for responding to a dilemma, including providing responses to appropriate criticisms.
  • conduct a reasoned debate with people from different cultures and perspectives on complex ethical issues.
  • apply knowledge and understanding of ethical decision-making to complex business situations.
  • transform business organizations through strategic leadership.
  • make sound judgements in the context of ethical dilemmas confronting business.
  • autonomy in study and use of resources for learning, including making professional use of others (students and tutors) in support of self-directed learning.
  • critical self-reflect on leadership style in own practice, with justification of his/her reflective process through examples of ethical dilemmas or decision-making.
  • problem-solving skills arising from and with reference to a grappling with ethical decisions.
  • skills to work in effective groups work towards defined outcomes, making appropriate use of the capacities of the group members.
  • analytical skills to plan strategies and tactics for dealing with an ethical dilemma in business.


This module is assessed by:

Coursework (50% weighting):

  • There is one item of coursework for this module which contributes to the final assessment mark for this module.
  • Coursework: a written essay of a maximum of 2,000 or 2,500 words (deadline – weeks 9-12) The coursework is designed to check student progress, extend and reinforce concepts covered and also test individual performance.

Examination (50% weighting):

  • The final piece of assessment will be an unseen written examination of 2 hours’ duration.

Essential reading

The following is provided as part of the course materials after you register:

  • Johnson, Craig E (2013). Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership 5th edition. Sage.
  • Ferrell, O. C., John Fraedrich (2014) Business Ethics: Ethical Decision Making & Cases 10th edition. Cengage.