Can there be immoral yet effective leaders? Yes, you can be immoral and still be an effective leader… at least for awhile. However, this is usually not a sustainable behavior, and will eventually catch up with those who are breaching the moral guidelines. That is unless you are a politician or someone similar where those who have the power to do anything about such behaviors (the people) refuse to actually exercise that power but I digress. It’s actually only a matter of time before immoral behavior catches up with leaders who partake. It is “business or political karma”.
To get extremely precise in what we are discussing, we must clarify the terms. To begin with, morality is nothing more than the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. Effective on the other hand, is simply being successful in producing a desired or intended result. So if we take the original question and rephrase it to better align with our definitions, we would get something like this; “Can a leader successfully produce a desired result by deliberately doing something wrong?”
The answer is emphatically yes and it really does not take much looking to find examples of this. However, it is noted that this type of behavior is usually a gamble for those who roll the dice and the rewards rarely appear to outweigh the consequences. Furthermore, immoral behavior is neither a long term solution nor an enduring practice. Finishing an audit on time without actually checking the requested items would be a great example. While you have completed the task on time, you haven’t exactly fulfilled the purpose of said task. You may be a hero for awhile having made the deadline, but what happens when something was wrong and it wasn’t caught by the audit? Eventually, it will be discovered and narrowed down to the audit, and then the auditor. It will then be discovered that the integrity of the audit had been compromised due to the immoral behavior of the auditor. Cause and Effect and Occam’s Razor suggest that the ending result will not be good for the auditor.
This is just an example of course, and it should be noted that there are far more extreme examples that could be considered or used. The point is that the immoral behavior usually cannot endure and eventually, someone will find out. You could be effective for awhile, but this is temporary, especially if you have any level of oversight to contend with. That being said, the length of the rope you hang yourself with gets longer the higher in an organization you find yourself.
I would tend to take it a step further by using the old analogy of “The higher you go, the harder you fall.” This of course, because the higher in the organization you find yourself, the greater the risks, the greater the penalties, the greater the overall repercussions of such behaviors. Classic examples of this would include Enron or even Wall Street in general.
In the end, I see it like this: immoral behavior can actually shine a light on you as an effective leader for simply being so effective in the first place. But this effectiveness came about because of a cheat and with any light, comes the ability of those holding that light to scrutinize. Those in oversight positions will seek those deemed effective and will begin observation or examination of that success. In the end, with close enough examination and enough light, comes truth. Cheaters are usually caught. Just something to think about when you are faced with an opportunity to betray the trust of those who rely upon you.