We are emerging from a decade plagued with headlines of crises that tell the narrative of the cost of organizational culture. Evolving before our eyes, the world is acutely focused on the actions of individual leaders and the organizational cultures that have cultivated low-trust and high-fear environments, dysfunctional and failing organizational cultures. Drawing from research in organizational theory, moral philosophy, psychology and sociology, the study focuses on organizational cultures, the role of leadership in enabling healthy cultures. This exploratory, qualitative study utilizing the grounded theory approach addressed the question of how organizations are establishing and reinforcing acceptable ethical leadership behaviors and principles and the factors critical in the role of leadership as an enabler of ethical cultures. The research explores how these leadership behaviors are manifested, and what is the impact and potential consequences these leadership behaviors have on creating healthy organizational cultures. The framework for this exploratory study was to research the questions and assess the phenomena from multiple perspectives. A process of data triangulation was performed, including an evaluation of multiple forms of primary and secondary sources. An analysis of the convergence and disparities of the data patterns resulted in the emergence of the key factors informing the grounded theory. The study points to the importance of leaders as visible and reflective models of organizational culture, especially at the middle layer of the organization. The study points to some emergent themes and effective practices that organizations can utilize to build and frame their ethical leadership development programs and initiatives. These themes include that rules and policies alone, do not provide a sustainable framework for mitigating leadership behavior. Other themes include social learning tools as channels for reinforcement and peer support of ethical decision making practices, evaluation of multiple perspectives of a situation, framing guidance with a tone set through the middle layer of an organization, and implementing diverse activities with a cadence of frequent contact over time. Implications and recommendations for leadership development in the areas of organizational development and business ethics are outlined. Suggestions for future study include organizational reputation management, phenomena of sensationalism and global transparency.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Learning technologies; Corporate culture; Business ethics; Organizational leadership; Organizational effectiveness

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Goodale, Monica;