Leadership on its own is a heavily debated topic as to what clearly defines a leader. I’ve outlined many points of what leadership means to be in my leadership series and I provided 100 example actions to be a better leader. While there is generally a consensus of what leadership is, one factor in leadership I find still often debated is that of moral leadership.
What is Moral Leadership?
First, I need to explore what moral leadership is. It’s more than leading others and having influence, it introduces how one does that into the equation. It needs a leader to act, follow and call others to a higher standard, a standard that is directed by what is thought to be good or right by a common standard. That standard is generated by a group of people, recognized by some authority and may even be based on spiritual foundations. It’s these types of standards that are expected in decisions and actions of moral leadership.
More and more is our world experiencing global crisis and needing leaders to join forces to battle for the greater good. There seems to be continual uncovering of unethical behavior in business, politics, religion and all areas of society around the world. There are no shortage of leaders making this happen as behind each one of these stories lies a leader who brought about the action and behavior in question. They chase money and let greed bring them into a position often seen as heroic leadership where ruthless actions, self centered decisions and environmentally disconnected standards allow them to feel what they are doing is acceptable and unfortunately, their followers, many of society’s success criteria and the media encourage this kind of destructive leadership. This is exactly why moral leadership is easy to debate because there is no easy to agree on good or right way to lead. I hope to make a difference on that in my own leadership and I know that there are just as many morally grounded leaders out there as there are ones in question here.
Demonstrating Moral Leadership?
As you know, leadership is about leading others and influencing them to behave a particular way. Moral leadership requires you to always look at what is right and lead others towards that. Moral choices come from a person’s character as well, they do not always come about by rational thinking. This makes moral leadership more difficult as there is a personal characteristic that must be evident to onlookers to believe choices are in fact moral ones. Directions that a moral leader takes do not always please the most people and so it is often counter to what people think a leader ought to do. Leading by popularity and influence alone will not typically create a moral path and the sacrifices that must be made around moral dilemas are often costly ones in terms of popularity, fame or wealth.
With morality formed by different sets of values and principles it is often difficult to truly have agreed upon standards and so moral dilemas do not always have an clear right and a clear wrong. They also often face a decision where there are two competing goods. One must choose based on the greater good in this case defined by their own principles and standards.
However challenging moral leadership may seem, it also brings about an opportunity to be a leader of morality. Can you look at your decisions and actions and say that you do so by a moral standard? Do you demonstrate decisions based on what you know to be right regardless of the circumstances or influence it might bring about? Let me suggest that you start with considering your own moral ground. What principles do you want to demonstrate when leading? Are those principles known to your followers? Would your decisions be based on what is right for others? Do your decisions promote respect to others and do you practice servant leadership? It’s these types of actions that most would agree are for the greater good and for what is right.
The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot. ~Mark Twain
Teaching and Promoting Moral Leadership
Seeing as moral leadership is greatly needed in this world of struggles I want to also encourage people to look at teaching and promoting it. Teaching morals is something done by those with influence, parents, teachers, business leaders and anyone in a leadership position. Morals are something that must be rooted in your character, your decisions and your actions so that teaching it is a matter of demonstration, intention and deliberate choices. Our children and youth could clearly benefit from it but also those around us in our lives and businesses.
Take note of the morals you teach and look at what you stand up for as a leader. Are you willing to stand out in a group, do what you know is right even if that is not the consensus or immediate reaction or preferred response. If you don’t promote what is right, who will?
This whole subject started when I was reading an article called, “Valueless Leadership” at All Things Workplace and that article includes several examples of leading with values and the comments got into moral leadership which I wanted to expand on. An example there was one of a a student returning a purse with $1000 in it and that the fellow students all concluded she should have kept the purse. The teacher didn’t say anything and didn’t want to impose their own views of whether this was the right or wrong thing to do. My reaction, “Unbelievable!” Of course I would expect a teacher to impose some teachings of right and wrong and I would hope that teachers of young students would in fact do so. There was a perfect opportunity to teach the class what was good in this and she was afraid to take it. So my friends, please make your stand for what is good in this world and take every chance you get to teach and promote treating others how they want to be treated, demonstration respect and good judgement of right and wrong in your own moral leadership!
My own experience and development deepen everyday my conviction that our moral progress may be measured by the degree in which we sympathize with individual suffering and individual joy. ~George Eliot
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