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Abstract

Attainment of goals without consideration for the needs of stakeholders remains the focus of leaders. Ethical leadership (EL) studies’ focus on leaders’ perspectives represented a research gap that necessitated this study. Followers are the least researched among stakeholders; thus, this study explored EL from their viewpoints. Stakeholder theory, social learning theory, eudaimonia, and utilitarianism were the conceptual frameworks that guided this study. Twenty participants drawn from followers in a public organization in New Jersey were questioned about their experiences and expectations of EL using open-ended interview questions. Participants with shared experiences were selected based on convenience, snowball, and criterion sampling strategies. With the use of the transcendental phenomenological design, the data collected were analyzed with the Stevick–Colaizzi–Keen method and the two-cycle analysis. Knowledge, exemplarity, and democratic decision making were themes of EL that are relevant to followers. Other themes found in this study, including communication, stakeholders’ well-being, impartiality, honesty, relationship building, responsibility, and humility, concur with extant literature and suggest consistency in the phenomenon. The potential social change implications of this study are an innovative and cooperative work environment, organizational success, and enhanced corporate social responsibility. Organizations and societies may benefit from the inculcation and development of EL in the family, society, tertiary institutions, and organizations through training, mentoring, and the development of an ethical culture.

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