The 10 Commandments of Ethical Leadership

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The fifth tenet of Chief Law, the rules regarding being considered at the pinnacle of leadership, is to follow the 10 Commandments of Ethical Leadership. 

First, let me explain:

At the core of three of the world’s most popular religions are The 10 Commandments: a series of laws passed down to man to create a civil society that would allow for nations to grow out of tribes.

Of all of the religious documents, the 10 Commandments may be the most recognizable in the world, and so it seemed strange to me that they haven’t been adapted for an age when many do not consider themselves “God-fearing.”

Rather than create empty rules regarding how to be a great leader, I decided to adapt the rules that shaped much of Western society to apply to anyone, regardless of their spiritual background.

Keep In Mind!

These are not “best practices” of leadership. We are not talking about how to handle a coaching conversation or how to make your employees happy.

These are the commandments of ethical leadership. They are expectations of decent people, and only those who wish to be decent people will see their value and choose to benefit from them. Remember though: you have a choice.


You can choose to find this silly, stupid, offensive, wrong or choose to read it with an open mind.

Leadership relies more on the choices one makes than the experience they’ve gathered. Some people have plenty of education or experience and still make moronic decisions.

Without further adieu:



1. We Are All A Blob Of Cells & Will Die

“There is no other God before me” means, to the ethical leader, that all humans, regardless of ethnicity, heritage, political or religious affiliation, come from the same place. You need not impose this reality onto others, just know it for yourself.

The basis for ethical leadership is respect for life. Each of us are strands of DNA creating cells which pile onto each other into the form of a human. No matter how powerful, rich, influential or useful you become, you are worth no more or less than any other person.

In Practice: Those who work for you and those who work above you are people. Treat them as equals no matter their title. You’ll inspire those who look up to you and those who you look up to will respect you. Don’t change the core of your message for your audience and trust that people, when trusted, will do the right thing.


2. Become Your Role Model. Don’t Put Others On A Pedestal.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol,” is a simple way of saying that your favorite celebrity (including politicians) is still a human and still flawed.

Too often we let the momentum behind an organization or movement die along with the presiding leader at any given time. Aspects you appreciate about others are things you should engrain into yourself. You make the choice to be better; it is not a matter of “can” but a matter of “want.”

In Practice: Your role models and mentors have flaws; expect that. If they are ethical leaders, they recognize they are no better than you (see: the 1st Commandment). If not, then you have discovered a way to rise above them.

The same applies to those “below” you. Favorite sons are despised and resented by their peers. Your judgement of others should rest in what they produce and their attitude. Don’t mistake a suck up for someone worthy of a trust over a competent, loyal peer.

3. Speak For Yourself

“Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.” In other words, speak only for yourself and allow others to speak for themselves.

If you rely on the celebrity or lovability of another to lift you, you may have trouble maintaining the brief attention or trust such endorsements grant you. Your endorsements must be backed up by actions, and only you can create your reputation.

Your perceptions are not everyone else’s, and you may lose credibility by too enthusiastically referring someone that another person may not find valuable.

In Practice: A friend will have a harder time recovering from a failure to live up to others’ expectations if you talk them up than if they could make a first impression on their own. Often times we speak highly of others as if we are doing them a favor, but others don’t necessarily perceive things the way we do.

If you value someone and think that another should meet them; connect them and leave it at that. Refuse to paraphrase what that person has done, believes, or what is great about them. The same can be said for our fraternities and sororities. We talk ourselves up all the time and yet members young and old still drink obsessively, haze religiously and isolate elitistly (new word!).


4. Respect Your Natural Needs. Make Them Your Priority.

“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” can be reframed to mean that you should regularly (whether it be daily, weekly, bi-weekly, etc.) take time away from the hustle and bustle of life. Your good work is at its best when you are at your most balanced.

In Practice No matter the deadline or perception of urgency around a situation, keep your time to yourself sacred. Recharge with family and friends, on a hike and with exercise, or by taking time to reflect and meditate. It is important to think about your values and actions regularly so that you can determine for yourself what needs to change.


5. Resist Resentment

Resentment leads to anger, fear and hate. There is an ongoing war in Korea (they are still effectively under a declaration of war even though there isn’t regular fighting) built almost entirely on resentment for prior actions. The South and North in the United States STILL hate each other about resentment we have long since moved past.

Feeling slighted by someone you trust or feeling as if a leader has let you down can be an emptying experience.

Ethical leaders learn to let go. This is what, “Honor your father and mother” means. As mentioned before, you may begin to notice faults in those who you look up to. Do not resent others for having faults or for giving in to their vices. Learn and apply.

In Practice: Have a bad boss? Girlfriend cheat on your? Parents steal your cash? Appreciate that you can come out of that situation a stronger person and that you can escape a recurring problem if you choose to.

You don’t need to maintain a relationship to maintain respect. Cut ties if you need to, but learn to forgive, even if it means you may not have a place for that person in your life. Many believe resentment turns into disease. . .


6. Defend Courageously. Never Aggress.

“You shall not kill/murder” – When threatened, an animal makes itself appear bigger, a leader institutes rules (which are a threat of force) and a human typically squares his stance and puffs his chest. Aggression is a tool for those who feel threatened; it is reserved for those who know they are already losing their edge.

Ethical leaders defend honestly and courageously up until they need to. If the 5th Commandment says we should resist resentment, the 6th emphasises we should resist creating resentment in others or letting a setback manipulate our actions.

In Practice: There is a mantra employed by ethical healers/doctors around the world: “First do no harm.” You may not be on the verge of killing someone, but your response to a crisis can just as easily kill someone’s spirit.

Give others as few reasons as possible to be defensive. Be empathetic. Judge and punish evenly; do not play favorites.


7. Make Commitments Within Your Means & Keep Them.

“You shall not commit adultery” should not be enslaved to the concept of marriage. Marriage is simply a commitment, and it is the failure to live up to a promise or commitment that makes an unethical leader.

Recognize your means, create commitments only within those means and keep those commitments.

In Practice: If you have too much on your plate, acknowledge it and refuse (and I mean passionately REFUSE) to add more to it. If you can’t seem to remain faithful in a relationship, end it.

Leadership relies almost entirely on trust. Over-committing creates as much mistrust as general incompetency or sin.


8. You Must Produce

“You shall not steal,” when applied to ethical leadership has less to do with a loaf of bread than it does earning your own credit and allowing others to keep their credit.

Micromanagement is detestable because it means that a leader is too consumed in controlling what others create and not focused enough on what they need to do to advance their organization, their cause, or their employees themselves.

In Practice: Commit to managing only as many people as will leave you time to produce your own product. Give those who work with you and under you something to look up to. Prove that you are worth your title.


9. Recognize Your Words Reflect Your Nature

The 3rd Commandment suggests limitations in “positive gossip,” so it should be obvious that “negative gossip” is as bad if not worse. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” scolds both against lying and gossiping.

Gossip destroys teams and eliminates trust, even to those you gossip with! People know not to share openly with a gossiper, and gossip often serves no purpose than to bring someone else down. We’ve discussed not creating or giving in to resentment, and resentment often manifests itself into “civil” gossip.

Small lies, even white lies, create a habit of lying. The more one lies, the easier it is to do so. Consider white lies the gateway to harder lies. People also know not to trust someone who lies to make them feel better; you should want to be known for speaking the truth.

In Practice: Remove yourself from conversations if they begin to involve gossip. Find something better to talk about than other people. Search the Eleanor Roosevelt quote about “small minds.”

Speak truthfully. The immediate pain is worth bearing when you consider the chronic effects of regular lies on your character.


10. Create Your Own Game – Your Benchmarks Are Yours To Choose

Ethical leaders translate, “You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor,” into an understanding that we often benchmark our success by comparing ourselves to others. That leads to stress and insanity.

It is okay to want to be compensated as well as or better than an underperforming peer, but make that case for yourself or choose to walk out the door. You don’t have to settle and you don’t need to bring someone else down. Ever.

Instead of playing by someone else’s rules and in someone else’s game, create your own rules, make them known and follow them. It’s surprisingly easy for other people to accept that you don’t play the game.

In Practice: Never run to catch a train, plane or bus. The world will move on and you should have more respect than to be a slave to another’s schedule. I’m serious. Learn to go with the flow; take an improv class.

This commandment requires that you create a culture within yourself of not letting life or others get the best of you. If you set your expectations then you learn to live within the means of those expectations.

If being on time is something you value, plan better and have a back-up plan (miss a plane, plan to give a presentation over Skype)