Leadership Theory and Practice in Sport Management: What Constitutes Ethical Leadership According to Student-Interns?



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Due to the multitude of widely publicized scandalous acts exhibited by managers in the sport industry, there is a pressing need for leadership philosophies and styles that embody ethical behavior. The standard for effective leadership among scholars and practitioners has recently shifted to include ethical behavior as a valuable asset. Thus, the purpose of this thesis is to understand what constitutes ethical leadership in contemporary sport organizations and academic curricula geared toward sport management.

This qualitative study explored ethical leadership from the perspective of 13 undergraduate students (e.g., student-interns) majoring in sport management who have acquired experience in an academic environment and business setting. Semi-structured, face-to-face interviews were conducted with each of the student-interns. Bandura?s (1977) social learning theory, which is grounded in the notion that individuals learn by observing the behaviors of dependable models, was utilized to construct interview questions for this study.

Findings revealed the ethical attitudes and behaviors of student-interns are heavily influenced by leaders in academic and organizational settings. Essentially, the ethical standards held by student-interns reflected the opinions and actions of valued faculty members and sport managers. In contrast to the widespread unethical leadership on display in contemporary sport, participants in this study indicated ethical conduct was the prevailing norm within academic and business settings. However, after analyzing data, there were notable discrepancies between theoretical and practical dimensions of ethical leadership in the sporting realm.

This thesis contributes to the ongoing discourse concerning the level of continuity between theory and practice as it pertains to ethical leadership in sport. Findings from this study are discussed as it relates to the future ethical climate in the sport industry and academic environment.