The concept of ethical leadership has been intrinsically evident for over a century, but studies have only recently been documented that have attempted to observe and analyse the phenomenon. The concept has become more popular in the information age as companies start to employ additional knowledge workers who search for enhanced meaning in their respective occupations.
The gold mining industry in Africa has improved substantially as conflicts have subsided slightly. As such, industry leaders need demonstrate better skills of engagement when managing legacy issues. While the shareholders’ interest remain high on leaders’ radar, leaders need effectively manage operations to address issues that might not be immediately evident in balance sheet, but that nonetheless have an effect on economic sustainability of the gold mining entities. Given that the concept of ethical leadership is known, there are still scandals that have recently been documented that involve leaders who have made decisions that led to demise of entities for which they were responsible.
The purpose of this research was to explore ethical leadership and its association with sustainable economic performance within gold mining industries. The study aimed to analyse companies that have an African footprint, while originating from South Africa. A qualitative research method was employed following a phenomological approach to obtain insights of how African leaders have operated gold mines in Africa and have managed operations that performed very well. The aim was to crystallise and distil the findings for the use by future leaders so that they could avoid future scandals and not destroy shareholder value and disappoint stakeholders. The personal and leadership traits of ethical leaders were reviewed with the aim of determining the mental development that would be required, as well as which aspects would require consideration when determining the effects on economic sustainability.
The African leaders interviewed were familiar with the concept of ethical leadership, economic sustainability and implicitly understood the association of ethical leadership with economic sustainability. The concept of ethical leadership generated two new terms, as described by the interviewees that could be infused to the definition to cater for an African context. The concept of “Ubuntu” and “displaying appropriate conduct” were the two terms that were derived from the leaders. The concept of greed was identified as a strong impediment towards economic sustainability. The gap of
displaying that ethical leadership has a favourable outcome towards economic sustainability was demonstrated. By attempting to close this gap, it could help curb unemployment rates, as decisions would be made differently. From the propositions made, which were all proven successfully, there remains opportunities for future quantitative studies to be undertaken to add insight to the existing body of knowledge.