Identity Talk of Aspirational Ethical Leaders

Research paper by Juliette Koning, Jeff Waistell

Indexed on: 03 Apr '12Published on: 03 Apr '12Published in: Journal of Business Ethics


This study investigates how business leaders dynamically narrate their aspirational ethical leadership identities. In doing so, it furthers understanding of ethical leadership as a process situated in time and place. The analysis focuses on the discursive strategies used to narrate identity and ethics by ethnic Chinese business leaders in Indonesia after their conversion to Pentecostal–charismatic Christianity. By exploring the use of metaphor, our study shows how these business leaders discursively deconstruct their ‘old’ identities and construct their ‘new’ aspirational identities as ethical leaders. This leads to the following contributions. First, we show that ethical leadership is constructed in identity talk as the business leaders actively narrate aspirational identities. Second, the identity narratives of the business leaders suggest that ethical leadership is a context-bound and situated claim vis-à-vis unethical practice. Third, we propose a conceptual template, identifying processes of realisation and inspiration followed by significant shifts in understanding, for the study of aspirational ethical leadership.