Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 113, Issue 4, pp 567–581 | Cite as

In Search of Virtue: The Role of Virtues, Values and Character Strengths in Ethical Decision Making



We present a comprehensive model that integrates virtues, values, character strengths and ethical decision making (EDM). We describe how a largely consequentialist ethical framework has dominated most EDM scholarship to date. We suggest that reintroducing a virtue ethical perspective to existing EDM theories can help to illustrate deficiencies in existing decision-making models, and suggest that character strengths and motivational values can serve as natural bridges that link a virtue framework to EDM in organizations. In conjunction with the more fully formulated extant research on situational determinants, we present and discuss our model that introduces a virtue based orientation to EDM.


Character strengths Ethical decision making Virtues Values 



We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Trudeau Foundation and the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership at Richard Ivey School of Business, the insightful contributions of the practitioners in the “Leadership on Trial” study, as well as the insights provided by Jeffrey Gandz, Corey Mulvihill, Dusya Vera, editor Joan Fontrodona and the anonymous reviewers.


  1. Agle, B. R., & Caldwell, C. B. (1999). Understanding research on values in business: A level of analysis framework. Business & Society, 38(3), 326–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alzola, M. (2012). The possibility of virtue. Business Ethics Quarterly, 22(2), 377–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aristotle. In H. Rackham (Ed.), Nicomachean ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Accessed from Accessed 21 Oct 2012.
  4. Arjoon, S. (2000). Virtue theory as a dynamic theory of business. Journal of Business Ethics, 28(2), 159–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arjoon, S. (2007). Ethical decision-making: A case for the triple font theory. Journal of Business Ethics, 71(4), 395–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ashkanasy, N. M., Windsor, C. A., & Treviño, L. K. (2006). Bad apples in bad barrels revisited: Cognitive moral development, just world beliefs, rewards, and ethical decision-making. Business Ethics Quarterly, 16(4), 449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  8. Bandura, A. (1991). Social cognitive theory of self-regulation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 248–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bardi, A., & Schwartz, S. H. (2003). Values and behavior: Strength and structure of relations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(10), 1207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Beabout, G. R. (2012). Management as a domain-relative practice that requires and develops practical wisdom. Business Ethics Quarterly, 22(2), 405–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Beadle, R., & Moore, G. (2006). MacIntyre on virtue and organization. Organization Studies, 23(3), 323–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bennis, W. G., & O’Toole, J. (2005). How business schools lost their way. Harvard Business Review, 83(5), 96–104.Google Scholar
  13. Biggs, D. A., Schomberg, S. F., & Brown, J. (1997). Moral judgement development of freshmen and their precollege experiences. Research in Higher Education, 7(4), 329–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brady, F. N., & Wheeler, G. E. (1996). An empirical study of ethical predispositions. Journal of Business Ethics, 15(9), 927–940.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cameron, K. (2003). Organizational virtuousness and performance. In K. Cameron, J. Dutton, & R. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.Google Scholar
  16. Cameron, K. (2006). Good or not bad: Standards and ethics in managing change. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 5(3), 317–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cameron, K. (2011). Responsible leadership as virtuous leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 98(1), 25–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cameron, K. S., Dutton, J. E., & Quinn, R. E. (2003). Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.Google Scholar
  19. Caza, A., Barker, B. A., & Cameron, K. S. (2004). Ethics and ethos: The buffering and amplifying effects of ethical behavior and virtuousness. Journal of Business Ethics, 52(2), 169–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Comer, D. R., & Vega, G. (2008). Using the PET assessment instrument to help students identify factors that could impede moral behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 77(2), 129–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Copleston, F. (1962). A history of philosophy, Vol. I: Greece and Rome. New York: Image Books, Doubleday.Google Scholar
  22. Crilly, D., Schneider, S. C., & Zollo, M. (2008). Psychological antecedents to socially responsible behavior. European Management Review, 5(3), 175–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Crossan, M., Mazutis, D., Seijts, G., & Gandz, J. (2013). Developing leadership character in business programs. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 12(2).Google Scholar
  24. Dimow, J. (2004). Resisting authority: A personal account of the Milgram obedience experiments. Jewish Currents.Google Scholar
  25. Donaldson, T., & Dunfee, T. W. (1994). Toward a unified conception of business ethics: Integrative social contracts theory. Academy of Management Review, 19(2), 252–284.Google Scholar
  26. Dutton, J. E., Worline, M. C., Frost, P. J., & Lilius, J. (2006). Explaining compassion organizing. Administrative Science Quarterly, 51(1), 59–96.Google Scholar
  27. Egri, C. P., & Herman, S. (2000). Leadership in the North American environmental sector: Values, leadership styles, and contexts of environmental leaders and their organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 43(4), 571–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Eisenhardt, K. M., & Zbaracki, M. J. (1992). Strategic decision making. Strategic Management Journal, 13(S2), 17–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ferrell, O. C., Fraedrich, J., & Ferrell, L. (2009). Business ethics: Ethical decision making and cases. Mason, OH: South Western Educational Publishing.Google Scholar
  30. Fritzsche, D. J., & Becker, H. (1984). Linking management behavior to ethical philosophy—An empirical investigation. Academy of Management Journal, 27, 166–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fritzsche, D. J., & Oz, E. (2007). Personal values’ influence on the ethical dimension of decision making. Journal of Business Ethics, 75(4), 335–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gandz, J., Crossan, M., Seijts, G., & Stephenson, C. (2010). Leadership on trial: A manifesto for leadership development. London, ON: Ivey Publishing.Google Scholar
  33. Ghoshal, S. (2005). Bad management theories are destroying good management practices. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 4(1), 75–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Graafland, J. J. (2009). Do markets crowd out virtues? An Aristotelian framework. Journal of Business Ethics, 91(1), 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Groves, K., Vance, C., & Paik, Y. (2008). Linking linear/nonlinear thinking style balance and managerial ethical decision-making. Journal of Business Ethics, 80(2), 305–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hartman, E. M. (2006). Can we teach character? An Aristotelian answer. The Academy of Management Learning and Education, 5(1), 68–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hill, A., & Stewart, I. (1999). Character education in business schools: Pedagogical strategies. Teaching Business Ethics, 3(2), 179–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hitlin, S., & Piliavin, J. A. (2004). Values: Reviving a dormant concept. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 359–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Homiak, M. (2007). Moral character. In Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab. Accessed from Accessed 17 July 2010.
  40. Hosmer, L. R. T. (2008). The ethics of management (6th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill/Irwin.Google Scholar
  41. Hunt, S. D., & Vitell, S. A. (1986). A general theory of marketing ethics. Journal of Macromarketing, 8(2), 5–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hursthouse, R. (2007). Virtue ethics. In Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab. Accessed from Accessed 18 July 2010.
  43. Illies, J. J., & Reiter-Palmon, R. (2008). Responding destructively in leadership situations: The role of personal values and problem construction. Journal of Business Ethics, 82(1), 251–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jones, T. M. (1991). Ethical decision making by individuals in organizations: An issue-contingent model. Academy of Management Review, 16(2), 366–395.Google Scholar
  45. Jones, T. M., & Ryan, L. V. (1997). The link between ethical judgment and action in organizations: A moral approbation approach. Organization Science, 8(6), 663–680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kish-Gephart, J. J., Harrison, D. A., & Treviño, L. K. (2010). Bad apples, bad cases, and bad barrels: Meta-analytic evidence about sources of unethical decisions at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(1), 1–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Krishnan, V. R. (2008). Impact of MBA education on students’ values: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Business Ethics, 83(2), 233–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Locke, E. A. (1991). The motivation sequence, the motivation hub, and the motivation core. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 288–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Loe, T. W., Ferrell, L., & Mansfield, P. (2000). A review of empirical studies assessing ethical decision making in business. Journal of Business Ethics, 25(3), 185–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Luthans, F. (2002). The need for and meaning of positive organizational behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23, 695–706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. MacIntyre, A. (1991). Three rival versions of moral enquiry: Encyclopaedia, genealogy, and tradition. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  52. Manz, C. C., Anand, V., Joshi, M., & Manz, K. P. (2008). Emerging paradoxes in executive leadership: A theoretical interpretation of the tensions between corruption and virtuous values. The Leadership Quarterly, 19, 385–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Marx, R. D. (1982). Relapse prevention for managerial training: A model for maintenance of behavior change. Academy of Management Review, 7(3), 433–441.Google Scholar
  54. May, D. R., Chan, A. Y. L., Hodges, T. D., & Avolio, B. J. (2003). Developing the moral component of authentic leadership. Organizational Dynamics, 32(3), 247–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Mintz, S. M. (1996). Aristotelian virtue and business ethics education. Journal of Business Ethics, 15(8), 827–838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Nyberg, D. (2007). The morality of everyday activities: Not the right, but the good thing to do. Journal of Business Ethics, 81(3), 587–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. O’Fallon, M. J., & Butterfield, K. D. (2005). A review of the empirical ethical decision-making literature: 1996–2003. Journal of Business Ethics, 59(4), 375–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Paine, L. S. (2003). Value shift: Why companies must merge social and financial imperatives to achieve superior performance. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  59. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Rest, J. R. (1986). Moral development: Advances in research and theory. New York: Praeger Publishers.Google Scholar
  61. Rokeach, M. J. (1973). The nature of human values. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  62. Sadler-Smith, E. (2012). Before virtue: Biology, brain, behaviour, and the “moral sense”. Business Ethics Quarterly, 22(2), 351–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Schmidt, C. D., McAdams, C. R., & Foster, V. (2009). Promoting the moral reasoning of undergraduate business students through a deliberate psychological education-based classroom intervention. Journal of Moral Education, 38(3), 315–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Schwartz, S. (1996). Value priorities and behavior: Applying a theory of integrated value systems. In C. Seligman, J. M. Olson, & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), The Ontario symposium: Vol. 8. The psychology of values (pp. 1–24). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  65. Seligman, M., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Smith, P. B., Peterson, M. F., & Thomas, D. C. (2008). The handbook of cross-cultural management research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  67. Solomon, R. C. (1992). Corporate roles, personal virtues: An Aristotelean approach to business ethics. Business Ethics Quarterly, 2(3), 317–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sonenshein, S. (2007). The role of construction, intuition, and justification in responding to ethical issues at work: The sensemaking-intuition model. Academy of Management Review, 32(4), 1022–1040.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Stephens, B., & Smith, D. (2009). Accounting ethics and educational interventions: A combination of both the discrete and pervasive method. Journal of the Academy of Business Education, 10 (proceedings).Google Scholar
  70. Tenbrunsel, A. E., & Smith-Crowe, K. (2008). Ethical decision making: Where we’ve been and where we’re going. Academy of Management Annals, 2, 545–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Treviño, L. K. (1986). Ethical decision making in organizations: A person–situation interactionist model. Academy of Management Review, 11(3), 601–617.Google Scholar
  72. Treviño, L. K., Weaver, G. R., & Reynolds, S. J. (2006). Behavioral ethics in organizations: A review. Journal of Management, 32(6), 951–990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Vera, D., & Rodriguez-Lopez, A. (2004). Strategic virtues: Humility as a source of competitive advantage. Organizational Dynamics, 33(4), 393–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Vogel, D. (2005). The market for virtue: The potential and limits of corporate social responsibility. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  75. Weaver, G. R. (2006). Virtue in organizations: Moral identity as a foundation for moral agency. Organization Studies, 27(3), 341–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Whetstone, J. T. (2001). How virtue fits within business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 33(2), 101–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wright, T. A., & Goodstein, J. (2007). Character is not “dead” in management research: A review of individual character and organizational-level virtue. Journal of Management, 33(6), 928–958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Yanow, D., & Tsoukas, H. (2009). What is reflection-in-action? A phenomenological account. Journal of Management Studies, 46, 1339–1364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Zimbardo, P. G. (2008). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York: Random House Inc.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Richard Ivey School of BusinessWestern UniversityLondonCanada
  2. 2.IMDLausanneSwitzerland
  3. 3.Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership, Richard Ivey School of BusinessWestern UniversityLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations