Growing up I remember the scandals surrounding Enron, Bernie Madoff and Penn State Football. Moral lapses allow for the reexamination of the importance of ethical leadership. Many desire leadership positions but few know the skills to become an ethical leader. Craig Johnson’s book Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow provides the framework for what ethical leadership looks like. The theme of the book is the contrast of the light and shadows of ethical leadership (Johnson, 2018). This book combines different ideas to help clarify what makes up an ethical leader, how to combat the evils in leadership, ethical standards and strategies, and shaping ethical contexts (Johnson, 2018). Johnson’s book was the most applicable to my role as a college wrestling coach.
This book made an impact on me as a coach. The metaphor of light and shadow “dramatizes the differences between moral and immoral leaders” (Johnson, 2018, p.2). Ultimately, leaders “have the power to illuminate the lives of followers or to cover them in darkness” (Johnson, 2018, p. 2). To unpack this idea, I reflected upon my leadership style. What is the goal of a coach? My goal is to use wrestling as a vehicle to promote positive values in my athletes. A coach's goal should be to prepare my athletes to become positive leaders in their future communities. Johnson (2018) believes that individuals need to manage “our unhealthy motivations through the development of positive leadership traits or qualities called virtues” (p.70). Developing virtues will assist athletes long after their college careers. Promoting these qualities are important, but being a role model for your athletes are just as beneficial.
In any field of educational leadership, leaders need to practice the values that they preach to their organization. Occasionally, I will see coaches preach the importance of nutrition to their team but are eating McDonald's for lunch that day. As a coach, my goal is now to “strive for ethical consistency throughout life” (Johnson, 2018, p. 84). Consistent ethical choices shape character development. It is equally important to have examples of those who live moral lives (Johnson, 2018). This book re-defined the importance of being a role model and having solid core values. After we had completed the “credo memo” assignment, I presented mine to our coaching staff. The head coaches for both wrestling programs loved the idea. We collaborated to make our version of a “credo memo” to give each team during the winter and the summer breaks to remind them of our core values. And to think about those values during the decisions they make in the off-season.
If I were an athletic director, I would have every coach read the section about servant leadership. Servant leadership is simply putting “the needs of followers before their own needs” (Johnson, 2018, p. 250). Each decision a coach makes should stem from having their athletes best interests at heart. Coaches should consistently reflect on what would be best for their athletes. Servant leaders are less likely to create shadows because they are not acting selfishly (Johnson, 2018). This idea becomes difficult for coaches that only focus on winning. I coach to help my athletes develop as people. When you have a growth mindset, it is easier to understand this concept of servant leadership.
Many philosophers covered in the Johnson book have been discussed throughout this semester. Johnson discusses utilitarianism, Immanuel Kant, and John Rawls. According to Johnson (2018), these philosophies are tools introduced to “help us identify and clarify problems, force us to think systematically, encourage us to view issues from many different vantage points and supply us with decision-making guidelines” (p. 146). Johnson weighs the pros and cons to each philosophy while scratching the surface for each philosophy’s core values. However, Johnson fails to provide the depth to these issues that Michael Sandel provides in Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?. Sandel provides an in-depth look at utilitarianism, Kant, Rawls, and other different moral and ethical philosophies. Additionally, Sandel adds specific situations that would apply to each case. Sandel approaches moral and political philosophy from a complete perspective. Looking at how philosophy may impact contemporary politics, as well as, ordinary men and women (Sandel, 2010). This makes it difficult to compare what Johnson covers in eighteen pages, to what Sandel covers in over two-hundred pages.
Johnson introduces many ethical leadership cases. Comparatively, Laura Trujillo-Jenks and Kenneth Jenks looked at current issues in educational leadership in their book Case Studies on Safety, Bullying, and Social Media in Schools. Case Studies on Safety, Bullying, and Social Media in Schools addresses issues facing educational leaders such as cyberbullying, sexual harassment, and school shootings (Trujillo-Jenks & Jenks, 2016). These cases were on paper more prevalent to my position on a college campus. It raised questions of student safety and laws relevant to my role as an educational leader (Trujillo-Jenks & Jenks, 2016). But I found these cases extreme and unrelatable. Johnson’s cases in the book raised more interesting ethical questions and made me reflect more on my own behavior. The self-analysis sections allowed for deeper consideration of my behavior as a coach. Self-analysis allowed each chapter to become relevant to my role as a coach.
Overall, I enjoyed Johnson’s book on ethical leadership. This book made me reflect on my leadership practices, and if I am casting light or shadow in my program. Johnson spends many chapters focusing on the evil potential of leadership. As seen throughout history, evil leadership can have severe consequences. Although I doubt many leaders are completely evil. Leaders commonly have some of these monsters lurking within than complete evil. At times, I find myself as a leader wrestling with insecurities, fear, and the battleground mentality (Johnson, 2018). I wish Johnson spent more time on these individual monsters than a full chapter on evil. Examining these individual monsters could create new strategies to prevent other unethical leadership practices.