Having a personal vision and a well-defined set of values that make up your character can help you better navigate the ethical dilemmas that arise in day-to-day leadership, writes Jared Harris, an associate professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Harris suggests outlining values aligned with service such as trust and stewardship and getting input from others on how they see you now so you know where you might need to improve.



What is the role of character in ethical decision-making? Through making and executing managerial decisions, your choices and decisions help establish who you are as a leader and what kind of organization you work for.

In other words, in addition to being about both principles and consequences, ethics is also about character: the individual traits and qualities that define what kind of person someone is and who they hope to become. This suggests that in addition to reflecting on our specific choices as we make them, we must also evaluate actions in terms of how they help define who we really are and how others will see and understand us.



There is a long tradition of thinking about ethics in this way that goes back to Plato and Aristotle. In this approach, virtuous character is not simply a disposition or feeling; it is cultivated and made a part of the individual through exercise and action — “the actualization of a possibility.”1 This suggests that understanding our character involves anticipating our best self and intentionally pursuing a life that will lead us to become that person.

As such, it is vital to consider proactively what your personal vision is for your character as a manager and leader: who you really are and who you hope to become.