Searching for Virtue in the Public Life, Essay Example

Merriam-Webster states that ethics relates to activities “involving or expressing moral approval or disapproval,” or activities “conforming to accepted standards of conduct.” These two definitions are further defined, by Merriam-Webster, as “ethical judgments” and “ethical behavior,” respectively (Ethical, n.d.). It is important for entities who deal with the public to have set standards for rules of conduct and ethical guidelines. This is particularly true for public administration organizations.

Public Administration Ethics

It remains that ethics is a concept that relates to those things in life that are extremely virtuous, or are highly respected. This concept is relevant in private and public life, as well as in business. Additionally, it is particularly important in the area of public administration where public managers are charged with making ethical decisions. To assist with this effort, a public administration entity must have a Code of Ethics in place to ensure the public is dealt with in a manner fitting to that which is virtuous.

Without adherence to a Code of Ethics, these public agencies are suceptible to the high cost of the consequences that can stem from ethics failure, such as corruption and the misappropriatation of public resources, the additional monies needed to investigate the corruption, and the time and resources needed to actively respond to the corruption (Frederickson & Ghere, 2005). A solution to the possibility of this type of problem is the implementation of a Code of Ethics, as stated. According to Frederickson & Ghere (2005), “Advocates of codes typically presume that codes contribute to a healthy organization and thus to a higher performing organization” (p. 28).


The International City/County Management Association

One such public administration organization is the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), whose Code of Ethics was originally adopted in 1924 and was last revised in 2004. The conception of ethics with this organization is significant, as it relates to the organization’s mission which is to run local governance activities with excellence and professionalism, and to have this influence the same type of mission across local government management authorities globally (ICMA, 2008).

In addition, the ICMA Code of Ethics fosters the establishment of public confidence by the dedication of responsible elected officials and the professionalism of a respected general management. This includes avoiding any and all conflicts of interest that may arise which may undermine any of the concepts outlined in the ICMA Code. Other significant features of the ICMA Code include due diligence in reporting ethical violations and adhering to confidentialty agreements. Additionally, self-assessment and ongoing professional development are conditions of the ICMA Code that are accepted as something that is expected of its members (ICMA, 2008).

Public Life Virtues

Frederickson (2010) refers to public life as that in the public administration department, and proposes that ethical development in the organizational setting is dependent on virtuous leadership, rather than rules and procedures that have been laid out. The conception of the idea of ethics in this area is related to the concept of identifying the entity as public administration instead of government administration. Frederickson (2010) states this distinction is significant because it covers a larger area of governmental ideas that affect a large area of people who are connected to community organizations, churches, businesses, networks and human collectives. These human collectives are not governments, but they possess governmental traits and have unspoken codes of ethics that relate to laws, hierarchies and bureaucracies (Frederickson, 2010).


The article, “Searching for Virtue in the Public Life,” relates to the International City/County Management Association’s Code of Ethics in that they are both reflecting the significance of respectful and professional conduct among its management and officials. In addition, they both highlight the importance of remembering that they are public agencies dealing with real people and that these people have a right to fair and ethical treatment. Public administration is also a commonality between the two and the adherence to a set code of values is important for the success of the organizations, as it is with any organization.

The article and the code addressed in this research are significant in assisting me with understanding more about the role of ethics in regard to executive leadership. When expectations are put in writing and those who are affected by the expectations agree to its contents, then they are charged with living up to the expectations. Additionally, a code of ethics serves as a guide to those who are in authoritative positions and it also serves as an instrument of self-assessement. Executive leaders can hold themselves and their peers accountable to the standards expected of them when referring to a set code.

Additionally, I think it is important to see that the code of ethics is very specific in outlining and covering all contingencies that may arise in ethics issue cases. I also see, from the code and the article, that ethics is a responsibility and a sign of virtue which everyone can take advantage of in everyday life. However, with executive leadership, this virtue is something that affects other people’s everyday lives, particularly in the area of public adminstration. Consequently, it is a must that ethical standards continue to be important in dealings with the public.



International City/County Management Association. (2008). Retrieved from Code of Ethics with Guidelines.

Frederickson, G., & Ghere, R. K. (2005). Ethics in public management. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.

Frederickson, H. G. (2010, Summer). Searching for Virtue in the Public Life: Revisiting the Vulgar Ethics Thesis. Public Integrity, 12(3), 239-246.

Ethical. (n.d.). Retrieved from Merriam-Webster Online: