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Inspired Leadership & Ethical Decision Making


This article is Part 9 of an 11 part series of reflections on Patrick Duignan's book, "Educational Leadership".


“Ethical leaders are ordinary people who are living their lives as examples of making the world a better place.”  (Duignan, 2012, pp. 92–93)


Duignan argues that every action of leadership in a school should be based on moral principles that are underpinned by a clearly articulated value system. These values should provide the reason why leaders do what they do. But how many of us are familiar with the values statements of our schools? Do our schools have values statements and if so are they ever made explicit to staff and students?


Defining, discussing and forming an agreement on core values is ‘vital’ as they form the basis of decision making and are also a compelling rationale and catalyst for transforming the school pedagogy and learning environments. It is not enough, however, to know and believe in the values on which the school is based, they must also drive actions and behaviours. Values in action are often seen in professional learning communities where 'values are articulated as the behaviour and commitments’ necessary to achieve the vision for the school (Duignan, 2012, pp. 92–93).


Duignan proposes four principles of values-inspired leadership:

1. self-reflection

2. balance or the ability to see situations from multiple perspectives

3. true self-confidence - based on a recognition of one’s own strengths and


4. genuine humility which develops a healthy respect for others


After looking at different perspectives on ethics, Duignan concludes that the best approach is Rational Wisdom or Virtue Ethics which is based on Aristotle’s thinking. This ethical approach is based on a quest for truth and works towards a consensus in ethics through a form of wise reasoning and practical judgement that takes account of each particular issue in the complexity of its circumstances. It is based on open dialogue that may never achieve black and white answers, but rather results in a wise and practical judgement that can be reasonably defended (Duignan, 2012, p. 105).


Duignan then proposes a ten-step method for ethical decision making:

1. determine the nature of the situation

2. clarify the facts

3. identify the players

4. think of several different appropriate options for action

5. evaluate the options using different ethical approaches

6. choose the best option

7. explain and defend your choice

8. work out how to implement the option

9. take action carefully and ensure it is ethical and moral

10. reflect, learn and improve 

(Duignan, 2012, pp. 108–114)


Publication Bibliography

Duignan, P (Unpublished). Leadership Presence and Influence Relationships: building collective efficacy and professional responsibility for quality learning and teaching in schools.

Duignan, P. (2012). Educational Leadership (2nd ed). Melbourne, NSW: Cambridge University Press.


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