What is Ethical Leadership?

Published: May 26, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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In light of all the recent ethics scandals, what’s needed most today is authentic leadership – individuals who demonstrate, by example, how to make a difference for the betterment of all. U.S. Army Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore represents one such leader. In 1965, then-Lieutenant Colonel Moore led his vastly outnumbered troops in the first major battle of the war in Vietnam, a week-long conflict in la Drang Valley.


In 2007, Moore spoke of the principles that have guided his life on and off the battlefield at the American Veterans Conference held in Washington D.C.:

1. There is always one more thing you can do to influence any situation in your favor – and after that one more thing, and after that…. The more you do the more opportunities arise.

2. A leader must ask, ‘What am I doing that I should not be doing, and what am I not doing that I should be doing?’

3. A leader must be visible and exhibit confidence under any set of circumstances. The determination to prevail must be felt by all.

4. A leader must always be ready! When there is nothing going wrong, there’s nothing going wrong except there is nothing going wrong.

5. Trust your instincts. Instincts and intuition give you an immediate estimation of a situation.

6. Everything in leadership boils down to judgment. Intelligence and good character does not imply you have good judgment.

7. Study history and leadership qualities. Pay special attention to why leaders fail.

8. A person in a position of authority does not automatically become immediately respected or trusted. This is earned.

9. Every person in an organization is as important and necessary to a mission as the next person. That goes from the top to the bottom.

10. Instill the will to win. There can be no second-place trophies on display—awarded or accepted.

11. Never deprive a person of their self-respect. NEVER!

12. To do well in any field of endeavor, it is an advantage to work with good people.

13. Strive to have one or two people around you who are totally trustworthy.

14. Spend quality time with the team, learning who they are and what motivates them. Create a family.

15. Great leaders learn to lead self first. Before you can lead others, leading self successfully must be accomplished day in and day out.

16. Successful leaders create the future.

17. Leaders must lead. Be the first boots on the ground and the last boots off.

What’s apparent is the number of ethical qualities Moore utilizes in his life principles: Trustworthiness, Responsibility, Accountability, Respect, Integrity, Courage, Perseverance, Diligence, Caring for others, Continuous Improvement of knowledge, skills, judgment, and Duty – not only duty to his country, but to the men and women who serve and follow him.

These are the traits of an ethical leader. They’re the qualities all of us should strive to develop and use in our own lives if we are to be the example to those we care about.

In his 2009 book, We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam, Moore writes, “These times, indeed all times, demand national political leaders who know not only our history but the history of the world and its nations and peoples. We need leaders of principle, courage, character, wisdom, and discipline…”


  1. I appreciate Jim’s posting of General Hal Moore’s ethical and personal standards and advice.

    It was my distinct honor to have served with and under those two giants who knew how to lead. One, the amazing Jimmy Doolittle, Four Star general and leader of the Raid on Tokyo during the “dark beginning” of the Pacific War, who spoke at Fort Ord, Monterey, where the entire 7th Division, then 7,000 strong, stood at attention in the sun of spring, 1976, for the Medal of Honor Recipient’s 80th birthday. A long introduction had taken its toll, and when the erect and sharp, athletic Doolittle took the podium the troops were fading. He stood erect, the blue Congressional Medal’s ribbon and medallion glinting in the sun. “Thank you all for coming. God always bless you,” he stated, and sat down. The choruses of “HOO-WAH” were deafening.

    To have met those leaders was, I am sure, to imbue in me a bit of what they stood for, as they led by example and to fail them was never an option. That’s what leaders do…inspire to be better, and be like them. Thank you, Jim for the memories.

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