Individual differences: Traits and ethical leadership

David C. Howe, Matthew C. Walsman, Carol Frogley Ellertson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


According to Ajzen (1987), individual differences and traits can help us understand a person’s proclivity to make certain ethical decisions or to exhibit certain behaviors. By linking traits to personal behavioral inclinations, researchers amplify our understanding of both ethical decision making and ethical behavior. Theories abound and often collide in explaining how traits influence behavior. For example, if a person is seen as possessing integrity, how is this trait manifested in his ethical decision making? Is it illustrated in the automatic, non-rational, physical manifestations of emotion and intuition? Or do we see it in a more measured, deliberative reasoning process? The burgeoning field of neuro-imaging has produced increased interest for business ethicists in the non-rational, physical basis of human actions. Recent neuroscience research has suggested that ethical decisions are made instantaneously through neural mechanisms rather than through conscious information processing (Reynolds, 2006; Reynolds, Leavitt, and DeCelles, 2010; Solomon, 1999). This argument provides evidence that there may be a direct connection between ethical traits and behaviors. This runs counter to traditional ethics research, which conceptualized ethical decision making as a deliberative cognitive process. Scholars continue to grapple with the balance between automatic neural processing and conscious cognitive processing in ethical decisions and situations, and we anticipate that more knowledge will be forthcoming. Regardless of their preferred decision-making mechanism, however, ethics researchers seem to converge on a belief that individual differences play an important role in the ways people think and behave.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationResearch Companion to Ethical Behavior in Organizations
Subtitle of host publicationConstructs and Measures
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)9781782547471
ISBN (Print)9781782547464
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)


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