Are Values, Morals, and Ethics the Same?

by Yasmine Moulin


If we want to be a good leader, Kouzes and Posner stated that we should “model the way” and continued by stating, “before you can be a leader of others, you need to know clearly who you are and what your core values are” (Kouzes, 2012, pp. 16-17). What are values? Are values, morals, and ethics the same? They seem similar, but, in my opinion, they are not the same.


Values are fundamental beliefs or principles that we live by on a day to day basis such as, honesty, integrity, honour, loyalty, respect, and fairness. For example, if we as a leader have a commitment to living “green” we may want to seek ways in our organization to take the lead and establish best practices in being eco-friendly and globally socially responsible, e.g. establishing paperless office and recycling policies.


Morals are similar to values. One could say our values are based on our moral code. Our morals are composed of our belief system and what we feel is right and wrong, or good and bad. Our morals usually have been molded by our parents, religion, society, and government. A moral leader is the moral compass of an organization. Moral leaders have a deep commitment of ethics and justice and their purpose is to serve others. As Yukl stated, a servant leader by his or her actions establishes trust by “being completely honest and open, keeping actions consistent with values, and showing trust in followers” (Yukl, 2013, pp. 348-349). As a moral or servant leader, one has the potential to have a significant positive change in the culture of an organization.


Although morals and ethics may seem to be the same, there is a slight difference. Morals define us and our belief system. As Northouse stated, “ethics has to do with what leaders do and who they are” (Northouse, 2013, p. 424). Kouzes and Posner stated, “leadership is about credibility, and about what you do” (Kouzes, 2012, p. 329). In my profession, I have put on many ethics workshops and seminars for leaders; however, it is clear that ethics cannot be taught. You are either ethical or not ethical. As an ethical leader, we may ask ourselves the following before making a decision for our organization: Is this right? Is this respectful? Is this honest? Is this good? Our being ethical or not ethical will reflect not only on ourselves but also on the organization or group we belong to.

In conclusion, to be a good leader one must have good values, based on strong morals and ethics. A good leader’s values, morals, and ethics will have a huge impact on who they lead. To be a good leader one must be ethical, not only in words, but in action. If we agree with what Kouzes and Posner stated, “leadership is everyone’s business” (p. 331) and therefore, everyone is a leader, then I would like to propose that leaders should not be held to a higher standard. Everyone should be held to the same ethical standard.


Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The leadership challenge (5th ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Ross, S. (2000). What is the value of ethics? St. James Ethics Centre. (API Journal)




Yasmine Moulin is owner of Yasmine Moulin Consulting, providing professional development, executive leadership programs, social media branding and marketing, and business management consulting services. Yasmine has been in the continuing professional education field for financial professionals and business leaders for many years. She has successfully planned and developed executive education and professional development programs for VPs, CEOs, CFOs, and senior leaders. Yasmine was an early adopter of social media & saw the power it has to build relationships, brand awareness & authentic engagement with clients & potential new clients. This lead her to being a social media consultant and strategist. Previously, Yasmine was in the English as a Second Language (ESL) industry including being an ESL teacher and English & French tutor. Yasmine holds a Master of Arts in Leadership from Royal Roads University. Combining executive, management, business & leadership experience along with education & professional development, her focus & passion is in helping clients & their teams obtain their professional & personal goals. Yasmine currently lives in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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