[November 24, 2020] While writing an article yesterday on Good Sense, I was simultaneously thinking about the issue of morality and its impact on leadership. A host of questions sprung up that I was not prepared to answer. I will address one of the crucial questions here today.
Leaders are granted certain powers and responsibilities. If we were to look out across time and cultures, we would see successful leaders. A closer look at them will show us a behavior pattern from which we can extract those things associated with success, write them down, and study those behaviors. We do this to improve our own leadership capabilities.
“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” – Alexis de Tocqueville
Does morality have a place in leadership?
Read any history textbook, watch television, or read a newspaper, and reality grabs us like a bad dream. The daily dose of violence, apathy, divisiveness, and destruction has desensitized us to moral character failure. Unsurprisingly, the integration of morality into the decision-making skills of a leader is also on the decline.
How to Connect Morality to Leadership:
A U.S. Army retired Command Sergeant Major contacted me last week to lament that ethics are no longer being taught at the Army’s Sergeants Major Academy. Instructional emphasis is on “getting along” and “how to advance your career.” No longer do they mention morality outright for fear of being labeled racists or sexists. “What is this world coming to?” he said. Here are a few suggestions on how to link morality to leadership:
Be a Role Model:
Leaders practice what they preach. Leaders know the way, go the way, and show the way. Role models are what leaders are about. They have the freedom to show they are good people; strong, loyal, hard-working, and caring. Never underestimate the difference a leader can make.
Encourage Positive Behaviors:
As opposed to reinforcing negative behaviors, providing reinforcement of positive actions keeps a leader’s team in a state of intellectual and moral growth. Rather than focusing on the bad apple, praise the positive. Identify where the problems are and show others how to grow out of them.
One of the learning opportunities leaders frequently encounter is how they will react to mistakes. A good leader will reflect upon how the mistake was made, but more importantly, they recognize that it is an open door for personal growth. Give others the guidance, time, and resources to correct mistakes. This makes them more robust and more adaptive.
When leaders focus more on the mission, they are losing another generation of followers. Investing in character education will make the workplace a better place to be. When people know they are valued for who they are, they want to follow a moral leader. Respect, honesty, compassion, and teamwork are character traits that do not magically appear.
Be Open to Faith:
Morality is built upon a religious foundation. This building block is not based upon going to church every Sunday but upon a belief in humankind and their spiritualness. Encourage, don’t discourage, faith-based learning.
Leaders’ impact on shaping others’ character and core values is the fundamental reason leadership exists. A great leader teaches mentors, and coaches. That means being there for others, learning to inject the moral fiber necessary to make their lives better. What flows from that will determine how well your organization does and how you will be seen as a leader.