Ethical Leadership Q & A with Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Ethical Leadership Q & A with Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Memory Nguwi (MN) interviewed Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic on Ethical leadership.

MN: What is ethical leadership, and why is it important?

Dr. Chamorro -Premuzic: Leaders account for 30-40% of the variability in team performance. If you appoint the right people, you can expect effective team performance, and vice-versa. We tend to complicate leader selection or get distracted by the wrong traits. Both in business and politics, we pick leaders on charisma and confidence, but these individuals are often incompetent and unethical. The best approach to selecting leaders is to focus on competence and ethics. If you know what to do, and are motivated by doing good (helping others, making people better, and turning a group of people into a high-performing team), then good things will happen. Ethical leadership, the ability to act in prosocial, altruistic, and honest ways when you are in charge of a team, is a critical requirement for the effective functioning of any group, organization, and society. In fact, the more competent a leader is, the more ethical we need her to be: competence paired with dishonesty is just as toxic as incompetence paired with charisma.


MN: Why do some leaders behave unethically? What does the scientific evidence say about ethical leadership?


Dr. Chamorro -Premuzic: Most unethical acts boil down to two factors: prioritizing self-interest over and above others’ interests, and taking shortcuts (bending the rules, cheating, deceiving others). The motivation to act in greedy and narcissistic ways is just part of human nature, though only 10-20% of people are seriously prone to it. A bigger problem is that systems often fail to act in ways that effectively inhibit this tendency. If you don’t take care of free-riders, unethical leaders will emerge and thrive as parasites or bacteria do in a contaminated organism. I was born and raised in Argentina, which was once the richest country on earth (only 150 years ago), and is now the epitome of an overconfident and corrupt culture. We have great individual talent that cannot organize itself collectively, mostly because of inept and unethical leaders – who are mostly extremely charismatic and confident.


MN: Is unethical conduct driven by the environment or individual characteristics such as IQ and personality?

Dr. Chamorro -Premuzic:  It is a combination of immature followers (who want entertaining, macho-like, tough leaders), lawless systems (who don’t monitor or tame corruption), and then individuals who take advantage of this. The individuals come last, though the corrupt cultures and systems that enable their success are the legacy of previous unethical leaders…


MN: We have read about ethical scandals in many corporations: How can organizations ensure they have the right ethical climate?

Dr. Chamorro -Premuzic: Only appoint ethical and competent people to leadership roles. Fire those who don’t fit this profile. Monitor counterproductive work behaviors, and sanction toxic, parasitic, destructive acts. The more sanitized and sterilized your culture is, the more everybody wins.


MN: How can organizations ensure that the people they hire are ethical?



Dr. Chamorro -Premuzic: Use science-based assessments to profile leaders for integrity; select people who are boring and reliable rather than charismatic and entertaining; carefully inspect people’s track record; where people have managed a team, as their direct reports whether they trust them. The best predictor of immoral or unethical behaviors is whether a team trusts its boss. If they don’t, that’s a big red flag.


MN: Are there any demographic differences in ethical conduct?

Dr. Chamorro -Premuzic: Women are generally more ethical because they are better at self-control, and more altruistic. The rest is personality, which accounts for most of the variability, and of course the environment. A typical Singaporean may still behave in honest and collectivistic ways if we import her to Argentina, but an Argentine will probably try to break the rules in Singapore.


MN: Any advice you can give to corporations that aspire to build ethical corporations?

Dr. Chamorro -Premuzic:  It wont happen overnight, it is a long and tedious journey to model the right behaviors, punish offenders, and be always worried about the devastating reputational and cultural damage of relaxing your ethics… Today, the ethical and performance goals of organizations are conflated, so companies have a real business case for being good, especially not going rogue or breaking bad.


Related: The Advantages of Ethical Behaviour in Business


Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in people analytics, talent management, leadership development, and the Human-AI interface. He is the Chief Innovation Officer at Manpower Group, co-founder of Deeper Signals and Metaprofiling, and Professor of Business Psychology at both University College London, and Columbia University. He has previously held academic positions at New York University and the London School of Economics and lectured at Harvard Business School, Stanford Business School, London Business School, Johns Hopkins, IMD, and INSEAD, as well as being the CEO at Hogan Assessment Systems. Dr. Tomas has published 10 books and over 200 scientific papers, making him one of the most prolific social scientists of his generation. He is a frequent contributor to Fast Company, the Guardian, Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review. Find him @drtcp on Twitter or online


Memory Nguwi is an Occupational Psychologist, Data Scientist, Speaker, & Managing Consultant- Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Email: or visit our website


Memory Nguwi
Super User
This article was written by Memory a Super User at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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