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Buffalo State Experts: For Littman, Ethical Leadership Is the Key

Posted: June 24, 2019

While ethical leadership is important in any organization or institution, putting the idea into practice can be difficult.

That’s where Michael Littman, chair and associate professor in the Business Department, comes in.

Traveling around the globe, Littman makes it his goal to teach what ethical leadership looks like to leaders around the world.

“As a concept, ethics is very valuable,” Littman said. “Not always do organizations focus on it until it's too late.”

According to Littman, the definition of ethical leadership is “the continuous practice of having a positive influence on the decisions that will be right and appropriate,” and that “support the proper actions in any situation that impacts the greater good.”

The concept relates to how organizations deal with change, people, and communication, Littman said. Ethical leadership is important in terms of building trust and collaboration within an organization. 

“In anything you do, you need to trust the people around you,” he said.

Littman started teaching concepts around the world after a decision to bring them into a senior seminar he was teaching at Buffalo State. The idea was to teach graduating students valuable information as they moved forward in their respective careers.

“I decided to change it a bit,” he said, referring to the seminar, “to focus on what would be important for people graduating—which would be the area of ethics and leadership, because again, in my idea of leadership, we're talking about influencing, in a positive way, the greater good.”

Ethics is “right and wrong,” Littman said.

“And people need to know those things,” he said, as they move on into the workforce. “The sooner the better.”

From Canada to Germany, from Kazakhstan and Latvia, Littman has spoken at a variety of conferences. Some were on education, while others focused on project management and research.

Sometimes the topics involve controversial ideas like performance-enhancing drugs in the workplace, like Adderall, to help employees keep up with their peers, Littman said.

There are six tenets to his presentation, Littman said. They are: Honesty, respect, fairness, responsibility, courage, and kindness. Much of those he learned from his parents.

Littman recalled talking to an uncle who’s still alive about his father.

“I would say, ‘Hey, reflect a little bit on my dad, just see if I missed anything from when I was young,’” he said. “And he covered how kind my dad was. I never even thought of him in that way. Because my dad ran a business and it was kind of tough and whatever.”

When Littman travels abroad with his message of ethical leadership, it’s usually received in a positive manner, he said.

“Realistically, they’re sometimes more positive in Eastern Europe, and countries that are in more of a transitional mode,” he said. “Life would be a better place if everybody treated everybody how they would want to be treated. But it doesn’t always work that way.”

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