Utilizing Emotions for Ethical Decision Making in Leadership

Utilizing Emotions for Ethical Decision Making in Leadership

Jennifer A. Griffith (Alfred University, USA), Thomas A. Zeni (East Central University, USA) and Genevieve Johnson (University of Oklahoma, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0159-6.ch052
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Abstract

Modern organizational leaders must rise to the challenge of making both ethically sound decisions as well as traditional fiscal decisions in order to remain competitive in today's marketplace. It is critical for leaders to be mindful of how emotions may assist or hinder them throughout the ethical decision-making process. Attempting to ignore the emotional component of ethical decision making or pretending that emotions do not exert influence on decisions is foolhardy and disregards both empirical and theoretical research suggesting otherwise. The challenge for leaders is how to best incorporate emotion into ethical decision making. This chapter examines several theoretical models of emotion and ethical decision making, applies theoretical and empirical findings to explain how two common emotions—anger and anxiety—impact ethical decision making, and provides recommendations for leaders seeking to improve ethical decision-making outcomes.
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Background

To discuss the role of emotions in decision making, one must first define what an emotion is. Emotions arise due to reactions to a specific event or situation, resulting in shorter, more intense emotional experiences than moods (Forgas, 1992; Lazarus, 1991). These discrete, transient reactions are typically directed towards someone or something and can be powerful enough to interfere with cognitive processes (Schwarz & Clore, 2007). In fact, a growing body of literature underscores the impact that affect has on the cognitive processes involved in interpreting information, reasoning, and making judgments and decisions (e.g., Blanchette & Richards, 2010; Lerner & Tiedens, 2006; Pfister & Böhm, 2008). For example, interpretation of ambiguous stimuli is greatly affected by one’s emotional state by biasing the inferences drawn in the situation (Blanchette & Richards, 2010). Research has also found that more risky judgments and choices occur when individuals are in a positive mood while those in a negative mood tend to avoid risk and make more pessimistic judgments and choices (Bower, 1981; Wright & Bower, 1992). Risk aversion and choices also depend on more discrete emotions as well, underscoring the differential effects of discrete emotions above and beyond their general valence (e.g., Lerner & Keltner, 2000; Raghunathan & Pham, 1999).

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