[October 23, 2015] At least sometimes this is true and leaders must know the difference. Any good leader will know that there are circumstances under which rules (laws, regulations, establish procedures, etc.) must be ignored and also know the risks associated with such a decision. That is why doing what is right is the embodiment of a leader of courage and honor.
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
On the flip side, a leader is particularly immature and lacking integrity when they chose to obey rules knowing that it’s the wrong choice and then defending their position. I had a boss once when I was a junior officer who told us of the importance of doing the right thing.
Yet when a young soldier’s life was saved by another during weapons qualification, my boss chose to demote the man in rank (the one doing the saving violated rifle range policy) for disobeying the rules. My boss then defended his decision to all of us. Right then we all knew that he was not a leader we could rely upon.
The hardest thing for a leader to do is determining what is right. Often it is unambiguous and that makes for an easier choice of behavior. However, when we speak of senior leaders, the right thing can be neither easy to determine, nor is it easy to chose a path that is correct. But leadership means also making those hard decisions. This is where it can be difficult, not just morally, but difficult because the wise choice is not so obvious.
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Note: I’ve written on this topic before and those blog entries can be found here: