This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

More than Moral Leadership: Building Organizational Capacity for Promoting Ethical Behavior - Survey Evidence from Alabama Local Governments




Asencio Aragón, Hugo

Type of Degree



Political Science


This study addresses a deficiency identified in the public administration literature on how to design and sustain public organizations in which ethical reasoning and decision making is possible. It employs original survey data from local governments in Alabama to answer the following research questions: (1) what ethical organizational culture competencies (patterns of behavior) help reduce corruption within public organizations? And (2) what patterns of behavior help support a sustainable ethical culture over time within public organizations in which ethical action is possible, even in the presence of immoral leaders? The results of this study indicate that the competency of learning —i.e., when organizational members perceive they can improve their education and learn from each other— is likely to reduce perceived corruption within public organizations. Also, the results indicate that the competency of robustness —i.e., when there is frequent dialogue among organizational members about mistakes and also about ethics; when organizational members feel safe in expressing their knowledge, asking questions about ethics; and when they feel they work in an ethical environment— is likely to reduce corruption frequency (i.e., bribing and favoritism by management) within public organizations. This study suggests the need for leadership who feels a responsibility for enabling ethical reasoning and practice within the organization, rather than merely punishing or rewarding ethical behavior. Based on the findings, this study suggests that organizations that have developed patterns of learning and robustness may be able to sustain their ethics when a “bad apple” is at the helm. This is because in such an environment ethical behavior may not necessarily be the result of organizational members learning to behave ethically based on the example set by their leaders; ethical behavior may not be the result of organizational members being coerced to behave ethically based on formal controls, such as rewards and punishments. Rather, in such an environment, ethical behavior may be the result of specific values, such as integrity or trust that may have emerged within the organization from the frequent interactions among organizational members.