Moral Leadership by Example

By Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel Print this article Print

Doing the right thing is good for business.

Today’s market environment is based on meeting short-term expectations rather than long-term performance. Shareholders, investors and boards often have unrealistic expectations for executives, sending company leaders into survival mode.

This behavior manifests itself as a focus on short-term financial gain—rather than the company’s long-term health—as the executives strive to increase company value and preserve their own careers. As a result, these companies often sacrifice customer service, product quality and employee satisfaction.

When it comes to leadership, today’s business executives are the most highly qualified professionals we’ve ever seen. But with so many corporate scandals in the news, business ethics and morals are being closely examined. Research has shown that companies whose leaders demonstrate morally responsible behavior surpass their competitors in overall performance. 

Despite the morally compromised executives we have read about, there are many morally courageous leaders to inspire us. Although these leaders make mistakes occasionally, they’ve learned the importance of moral intelligence, which they practice in their workplaces, communities and personal lives.

Moral Development

Morality is nurtured in our formative years by our family, friends and caregivers, and is later influenced by associates and superiors in the workplace. We develop a moral compass defined by the principles, values and beliefs that shape our goals and behaviors. Moral leaders live in alignment with those values and beliefs.

A leader’s moral compass begins with self-awareness (What are your values?); self-disclosure (Share your values with your direct reports.); and discovery of others (Discover the values of those who report to you.).

Through this reflection and realignment, leaders can discover the adjustments necessary for more effective leadership. This should lead to moral intelligence, which requires:

• effective management of yourself, which begins with self-awareness and ends with living in alignment;

• effective leadership of others; and

• living in alignment, which requires aligning personal reality (thoughts, emotions and actions) with organizational and individual goals and the ideals represented in our moral compass (principles, values and beliefs).

Moral leaders constantly realign their moral compass by making conscience choices about how they think, act and respond in every situation. This can be challenging, particularly when a leader is out of alignment. Leaders, there-fore, must be mentally focused to achieve alignment by side-stepping obstacles, distractions and external pressures.

Living in Alignment

We may embrace the principles—meaning we’re morally intelligent—but we may not always live up to them. Neverthe-less, as we focus on our choices, we can enhance our competencies. To do that, we need to consider these four qualities:

• Integrity: acting consistently with principles, values and beliefs; telling the truth; standing up for what’s right; and keeping promises;

• Responsibility: taking responsibility for personal choices; admitting mistakes and failures; and embracing responsibility for serving others;

• Compassion: actively caring about others; and

• Forgiveness: letting go of one’s own mistakes and also letting go of the mistakes of others.

We can choose our thoughts, words and actions to better reflect our moral principles. If we’re out of alignment, we must change those thoughts, words and actions. Whether you’re in alignment or not, you’re always influencing those around you, and positively influencing others is what effective leadership is all about. Leaders’ actions and reactions are analyzed and interpreted by everyone in their sphere of influence.

The example of leaders in alignment with a highly respected moral compass will reverberate throughout the company. The reverse is also true. Morally corrupt leaders will have a negative effect on the firm, employees and other key stakeholders.

Leaders who are skilled in all the moral competencies can use their position of influence to produce positive results. They inspire their followers to be compassionate, respectful and loyal. Moral leadership practices tend to carry over into an organization’s community with three key principles: do no harm, add current value and add future value.

Mark Twain once said, “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” It’s time for moral courage to take center stage in business, and for businesses to accept the responsibility that comes with their prominent position in the world. Doug Lennick is CEO and co-founder of the Lennick Aberman Group, a performance-enhancement consulting firm. Fred Kiel, Ph.D., is co-founder of KRW International. Their latest book is Moral Intelligence 2.0, Enhancing Business Performance and Leadership Success. 

This article was originally published on 2012-03-02
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