This paper explores the puzzling nature of leader behavior in order to understand the conditions that encourage unethical decision-making. Building on the extant literature of pragmatic ethics, I explore how leaders can increase the quality of ethical decision-making within their organizations by understanding the incentives of rational choice. I have developed a rational choice-based ethical decision-making model to understand the incentives behind ethical leader behavior and find that ethical behavior is likely to be rational as long as audience costs remain higher than the savings benefits incurred by unethical behavior. I conclude with analysis of how the ethical rational model compares to other prominent theories that explain unethical leader behavior and propose that the probable outcomes derived from my model better explain bad leader behavior than competing control-oriented models. The results of this inquiry underscore the transactional and practical characteristics of leadership as a tool to help leaders manage their ethical climates, improve business practices and management policies, understand the nature of individual incentives, and capture transactional components of leader behavior.

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