For many, watching or reading about the news is a frustrating exercise. Ethics seems to have fallen by the wayside as we witness leaders who stand for and believe in things many people find abhorrent. Money, greed and power seem to drive many of these people, and perhaps it is time for the world to collectively protest and demand ethical leadership.

We discuss ethics in Leadership is Upside Down. Ethics refers to the set of moral values and principles that guides morally and enables people to differentiate between right and wrong. The three aspects that help define ethics are values, judgment and congruency.1

  • Values: Neuroscience has delved into the effects of greed on the brain. Scientists found that oxytocin modulates the greed response. Essentially, oxytocin (known as the love hormone), reduces our greedy appetites and the desire to accumulate wealth, power or physical objects at the expense of other people.2 Promoting oxytocin may help reduce the behaviours we associate with greedy individuals.  
  • Judgements: We all make decisions every day, from small things to life-altering choices. Leaders don’t uniformly make good decisions simply because they are leaders. We don’t always know the right answer, and saying “I don’t know” before making a major decision isn’t a sign of weakness.
  • Congruency: We show congruency when we practise what we believe in through our body language, the tone of our voice, and our actions and attitudes. Congruency determines how reliable others feel a leader is. If a leader behaves as a role model within the organisation, others will also be more likely to follow.

A life lived with integrity, even if it lacks the trappings of fame and fortune, is a shining star in whose light others may follow in the years to come.

Denis Waitley

How Can You Become A More Ethical Leader?

Ethics may not be the first thing that comes to mind in today’s fast-paced, competitive business environment. We see examples of leaders abusing power practically every day. The toll this kind of behaviour exacts on the humans who work under these leaders can be enormous. Don’t we all deserve ethical leaders?

It isn’t enough for leaders to state their values--they have to demonstrate these values in their everyday interactions. Having a high ethical standard means you have the self-awareness to understand how society is judging you and if you are leading the principles you support and believe in.

When you take time to reflect on what values are important to you, you can improve your performance as a leader.

You can also:

  1. Be aware of your addictions. Nearly everyone has something they obsess over, and most of us live perfectly normal lives, anyway. But sometimes, the brain can undermine ethical values when we are in the throes of a dangerous addiction. Learning how the brain is engaged during the decision-making process can help us walk away from addictions.
  2. Take a look in the mirror. We cannot grow as a leader if we do not experience self-awareness. When you figure out your ideal self, including how you act and your ethical values, your performance will increase. It can be hard to honestly reflect on how you are doing as a leader, or as a parent, a friend, or a caregiver. But, when you spend time on self-reflection, you will learn what drives you to be a better person.
  3. Learn to say no. When we begin a new position, we might fall into the pattern of automatically saying yes to anything that is asked of us. It can be difficult to say no when you are asked for a new report over the weekend, to fetch coffee for the meeting, or to walk the owner’s dog. You don’t always need to say yes, especially if the action or task requires you to compromise your ethics.

Leaders with a high level of performance are confident and they are able to self-reflect, say no when an action compromises their integrity, and they are role models to others around them. When the brain and body work together to form a strong, ethical foundation, your decision-making skills and resourcefulness will improve.


1. Damiano S, Cubeiro JC, de Haas T. Leadership is Upside Down: The i4 Neuroleader Revolution. About my Brain Institute. 2014.
2. De Dreu CKW, Scholte HS, van Winden FAAM, Ridderinkhof KR. Oxytocin tempers calculated greed but not impulsive defence in predator-prey contests, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 2015; (10)5, 721–728,

Originally posted on: 30 May 2019
Last updated on: 25 May 2024
Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.

Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.

Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership

In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.

Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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