Spirit | Wellbeing

Moral Leadership

Martin Luther King once said “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”. Despite the constant threats of physical violence from various racist groups, Martin Luther King refused to back down from his ideals as leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the segregated American South of the mid-20th century. He continually advocated for the use of nonviolent civil disobedience in order to effect a morally upstanding change in Southern society.

Nelson Mandela showed moral leadership when he fought against the oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa. Taking a position in defiance of the government but in support of those who had been silenced through oppression ultimately resulted in Mandela spending 40 years imprisoned on Robben Island. Mandela was freed and later became the country’s first democratically elected president when he again showed moral leadership by refusing to take revenge, instead calling for racial harmony and reconciliation of former enemies within South Africa.

What do these two moral leaders have in common? Both of them led by example, staying true to their cause, even in the face of adversity. They fought for what they knew was right and ethical and encouraged others to do the same. Leading by example is one of the key qualities of a moral leader but there are other qualities that define a good moral leader. Staying humble and focussing on the greater good, even if that means personal hardship is another quality found in good moral leadership. Honesty is essential to moral leadership as to build trust in your followers requires an open honest approach.

Let’s reflect

The World Economic Forum identified 5 ways to step up and become a moral leader

1 – Identity a set of values
Moral leaders guide themselves with values and ethics that they develop over time and with experience. Examples of values include integrity, respect, accountability, community, inclusion, fairness and service.

2 – Manage your ego
Moral leaders have a sense of self and are not threatened by others. But they also recognize that their self is not the most important thing and that leadership is not about them. Leadership is about serving others. It is not about you or your interests. True leaders value other people and put the interest of others first.

3 – Consider diverse groups of people and include their views
Leaders do not impose their values on others. They consider other people’s values. They interact with and understand others. The combination of their values and the values of diverse groups inform a vision for a better future.

4 – Embrace change
People seek moral leadership when they want change. Leaders don’t fear change. They have the courage and conviction to share a vision to try and bring about positive change.

5 – Build consensus and establish unity
It is rare that everyone will be onboard with your opinion or views (learn about the 20-60-20 rule). A leader listens to people with different views. A leader knows not to try and win everyone over.

Leaders also know not to create divisions. Moral leaders do their best to communicate a purpose that can inspire as many people as possible to want to take part in enacting positive change for the greater good.

Moral leadership is something everyone can strive for. It can be difficult to attain, but it is worth the challenge for yourself and those around you. Know your values, check your ego at the door, embrace others, be transformative and seek unity. Take responsibility to build a better world for all.

Can you think of any moral leaders? This might be someone well known like Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King or someone from your local community. Maybe you consider yourself to be a moral leader or would like to lead others to make ethical decisions.

Try to think of what qualities that person showed and what actions they took which showed their moral leadership. Maybe you can think of some changes that you could make to become a moral leader. Becoming a moral leader isn’t easy and you won’t always get it right. Just by starting to consider how your actions can affect others is a great start on the path towards becoming a moral leader. You don’t have to change the world to make a difference.

Try it out!

How can you be a moral leader a little bit every day? What do you think you can do? In your journal or a notebook write down three things you can do every day.


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