Moral Leaders Do What They Say They Will Do
What does it mean to be a moral leader in business?
It’s a question being asked more and more, as people are demanding moral leadership from business executives whose companies depend in large part on their support, patronage and loyalty to be successful.
LRN’s State of Moral Leadership in Business 2019 report, released this week, identified seven practices employees most associate with moral leadership.
The report found employees are quick to identify when a company acts in a way that is contrary to what it says about moral leadership, with about a quarter of the 1,100 respondents--executives, managers and employees in the U.S.--saying there is a gap between what their company says and how it acts.
About the same percentage said the same thing about how their organization treats its people and how they feel they are treated, and one in four again cited the gap between their organization’s pledge to do the right thing and how much effort it expends to do things right.
“People who work for leaders who demonstrate few moral leadership behaviors consistently are more than eight times more likely to observe these say-do gaps and seven times more likely to see abuses of power and unethical behavior,” the report stated. “Companies that commit to leading with moral authority but fail to ‘walk the talk’ could wind up with demoralized, frustrated employees and deteriorating performance.”
So, what are the seven traits that moral leaders tend to demonstrate?
“They start with a pause, see employees as people, foster freedom, demonstrate humility, act with courage, seek the truth, and uphold ethical standards,” stated the report. “Each of these practices has a unique impact, but they have the greatest effect when used together.”
Let’s look at some aspects of the seven characteristics.
Pause. Take time to figure out what truly inspires you, and what it may take to achieve the goals that are set. Once you choose a noble mission to pursue, look for chances to enlist colleagues to take the journey with you.
People. Moral leaders look for ways to make meaningful connections with their employees, and see them as people first and employees second. Leaders who reach hearts, and not just minds, will get greater buy-in and enthusiasm for the mission.
Freedom. Empower employees by encouraging them to share their insights and participate in conversations, and recognize those who step forward. Adding diverse opinions and outlooks makes the organization stronger, and the benefits grow when those opportunities allow people to shine.
Humility. Seek out--and take to heart--feedback from the people around you, especially when the comments are critical. It’s necessary to know the impact your decisions are actually having, as they might not be the ones you expected. Use the feedback to make changes, and make sure the person offering the feedback knows you intend to initiate new behaviors to address concerns.
Courage. As the desire for business leaders to take stands on important, and often divisive, social issues grows, leaders need to show courage and put themselves on the line, even if the issues don’t correlate to business objectives. Develop trust in your ability to act with moral conviction, and this will give you the confidence to do it again.
Truth. When taking action, seek feedback on whether a decision or action was fair and the right thing to do. Engage colleagues to offer thoughts on what might have happened if different options had been pursued.
Ethics. Explain the moral underpinnings of your decisions, as that helps others understand how your actions align with ethical standards; it can also prod them to behave better. Praising those who show ethical leadership is a great way to encourage even more ethical behavior.
These may be essential traits for moral leaders to possess, but many organizations fail to incorporate these lessons into their leadership development programs, the report found. About half the respondents said their company’s leaders receive training on how to discuss the complex moral issues that arise in workplaces today. Among those respondents who work in human resources, 27% said their company doesn’t do enough to teach leaders how to inspire others.
Organizations can help leaders build these habits, practices, and capabilities by designing programs that give leaders the opportunity to pause and really think about the nature of their responsibilities and what it means to be a moral leader. That means giving them time to deeply consider moral issues confronting the business, and offering guidance and coaching to support their efforts.
“Organizations need systems that expect moral leadership, rather than protect against it,” stated the report. “For moral leadership to take root, systems must focus on shared human values, emphasize purpose and freedom, and assume employees can be trusted to act in accordance with purpose. [But] a more human operating system cannot be shaped without the help of people who must live within it.”