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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Moral Leadership

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #127

I was first exposed to the writing of Bill George, former Chair and CEO of Medtronic and an Executive Fellow at Harvard Business School, by a friend from Point Park University who suggested I read his book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, published in 2007.

Upon further exploration, I discovered that his entire work is centered around "authentic leadership." When reading his article, "Moral Leadership is the Cure for Today's Toxic Managers" (in George's monthly newsletter Emerging Leaders), I pondered its content rather than simply reading it. George begins the article with this.

"Though we live in a world that advocates emotional intelligence and leading with empathy, many toxic leaders remain solely out for themselves and do great harm to their workplaces without regard for the consequences. Can a healthy dose of morality overcome an unrelenting pattern of toxicity?"

5 Leadership Archetypes

To better understand the moral leaders' challenges, I purchased a book written in 2022 by Bill George, and Zach Clayton called, True North: Emerging Leaders. This text broaches the theme of losing one's way as a leader. In my reflections on why so many individuals are unsuccessful in their leadership roles, I recognized that they began to forget their morals and convictions. According to the authors, leaders who lose sight of their values can become any of the five leadership archetypes.

1. Imposters: Imposters rise through the organizational ranks with cunning and aggression. They understand the politics of getting ahead and let no one stand in their way.

2. Rationalizers: Rationalizers always appear on top of the issues. When things don't go their way, they blame external forces or subordinates. Masters of denial, they rarely take responsibility for themselves.

3. Glory Seekers: Glory seekers define themselves by the acclaim of the external world. Money, fame, and power are their goals.

4. Loners: Loners avoid forming close relationships, seeking out mentors, or creating support networks. They believe they can make it on their own. Not to be confused with introverts, loners often have myriad superficial friends and acolytes but don't listen to them.

5. Shooting Stars: The lives of shooting stars center entirely on their careers. To observers, they are perpetual motion machines, always on the go, traveling incessantly to get ahead. They rarely make time for their families, friendships, communities, or themselves.

The derailment of leaders is generally a gradual process where the leader loses sight of their values and moral principles. The archetypes of leadership engage in behavior that erodes their reputation by seeking the easy path instead of the right path. From my observatory position, we desperately require a surge of moral leaders who guide from their hearts and minds. As LRN Founder Dov Siedman noticed,

"Leadership is how leaders touch hearts, not just minds, how they enlist others in a shared and significant endeavor and create the conditions where everyone can contribute their fullest talent and realize their deepest humanity."

LRN, founded in 1994, is an American company advising and educating other organizations on ethics, regulatory compliance, and corporate culture.

5 Characteristics of Moral Leaders

Bill George provided the following five defining characteristics of moral leaders.

1. Moral leaders are driven by purpose and animated by patience as they wrestle with issues of right and wrong.

2. They pursue causes that inspire them with an energizing life force, giving them the courage to take on complex challenges.

3. They are introspective and cultivate high self-awareness and emotional intelligence levels.

4. Moral leadership doesn't require religious faith, although many ethical leaders are inspired by religion and spirituality.

5. The moral authority must be earned by who you are and how you lead.

I would add this reminder to George's list, "who you are is how you lead!" To stay true to moral leadership, you must have boundaries that dictate your decisions and actions. Sometimes, the right and wrong paths are not so clear. In these moments, taking a step back and conducting a personal morality evaluation is essential: What do you stand for? What values matter most to you? What ethical boundaries are non-negotiable?

Ethical leaders are vital to operating all aspects of life, such as business, government, nonprofits, education, and more.

This means their responsibility is more significant than just managing a team or organization - they must have the courage to stay true to their values, beliefs, and purpose. You don't need a powerful title to be a moral leader; everyone can use their influence and writing skills to motivate others by guiding moral leadership development.


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