Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 144, Issue 4, pp 755–770 | Cite as

Ethical Leadership as a Balance Between Opposing Neural Networks

  • Kylie C. Rochford
  • Anthony I. Jack
  • Richard E. BoyatzisEmail author
  • Shannon E. French


In this article, we explore the implications of opposing domains theory for developing ethical leaders. Opposing domains theory highlights a neurological tension between analytic reasoning and socioemotional reasoning. Specifically, when we engage in analytic reasoning (the task positive network), we suppress our ability to engage in socioemotional reasoning (the default mode network) and vice versa. In this article, we bring together the domains of neuroscience, psychology, and ethics, to inform our theorizing around ethical leadership. We propose that a key issue for ethical leadership is achieving a healthy balance between analytic reasoning and socioemotional reasoning. We argue that organizational culture often encourages too heavy a reliance on nonemotional forms of reasoning to arrive at moral judgments (i.e., the TPN). As a result, leaders run the risk of suppressing their ability to pay attention to the human side of moral dilemmas and, in doing so, dehumanize colleagues, particularly subordinates, and clients.


Ethical leadership Neuroscience Dehumanization Leadership development 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kylie C. Rochford
    • 1
  • Anthony I. Jack
    • 1
  • Richard E. Boyatzis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Shannon E. French
    • 1
  1. 1.Case Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA

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