Managing Ethical Dilemmas

Authored by: Neil Cranston , Lisa C. Ehrich , Megan Kimber

Handbook of Ethical Educational Leadership

Print publication date:  May  2014
Online publication date:  May  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415853903
eBook ISBN: 9780203747582
Adobe ISBN: 9781135011932


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Over the past decade there has been considerable growth in the literature pertaining to ethics, ethical decision making, and ethical dilemmas. While this attention has, to some extent, been a consequence of scandals within both the public sector and the private sector, it also needs to be recognized that with organizational changes based on globalization and neoliberalism, more leaders at more levels in a variety of contexts are experiencing ethical dilemmas. As one of our interview respondents asserted, ethical dilemmas are the “bread and butter” of leaders’ work. In this chapter, we review a decade of research and writing we have undertaken to investigate the ethical dilemmas experienced by organizational leaders. We draw out the differences and similarities in the ethical dilemmas faced by leaders in schools, universities, and the public service, highlighting the complexities and challenges inherent in them. This discussion leads us to a conceptual model for identifying and resolving ethical dilemmas. We then introduce a scenario similar to those we have work-shopped with principals across Australia. Use of this scenario by practitioners and researchers enables them to experience the complex web of ethical dilemmas that leaders confront. A set of recommendations is posited. These recommendations are drawn from the ideas of leaders who have worked with us on this and similar dilemmas. Such recommendations provide a practical, albeit still challenging, means to better understand and resolve the ethical dilemmas that are prevalent in schools today. To provide a context for this review, we begin by discussing several theoretical approaches to ethics, ethical decision making, and ethical dilemmas.

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