The Definition of a Moral Leader: The E&C Pulse - July 29, 2020

July 29, 2020 Ben DiPietro

July 29, 2020

The Definition of a Moral Leader


Standing up for what is right, what is ethical, what is just. Speaking truth to power. Having the strength and fortitude to endure whatever retribution comes from those trying to oppose you and your cause. Serving as a beacon for how to act, how to conduct oneself, while pursuing justice, or whatever noble mission you are undertaking. Inspiring others to take up your cause. Leading by example.


These are all qualities and attributes of a moral leader. 


We talk and write a lot about moral leadership, what it means, what it looks like, how to attain it. In a world where moral leadership is needed perhaps more than ever in our history, the U.S. just lost one of its greatest moral consciences, an icon whose life served as a prime example of service to community.


John Lewis, a civil rights leader, congressman, and preacher, died earlier this month at age 80, after a fight with pancreatic cancer. The Georgia lawmaker and Alabama native was for the past 60 years a leading voice for racial justice, a champion for equality and fair treatment, the prime example of how to cause “good trouble.” 


But, more than anything, he was a moral leader. He asked nothing of others he wasn’t himself doing. He spoke out despite the threats to his safety, despite the fear those trying to silence him could harm his family, or people or institutions he loved, despite the pressure to keep quiet and go along to get along.


“Above all, moral leadership is about how leaders touch hearts, not just minds-how they enlist others in a shared and significant endeavor, and create the conditions where everyone could contribute their character and creativity,” Dov Seidman, founder and chairman of The HOW Institute for Society, and founder and chairman of LRN, wrote in the Moral Leadership in Business in 2020 Report from the institute. 


The greatest example of this moral courage came in March 1965, when Lewis and 600 men, women, and children faced off against police and deputized civilians as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. 


The police savagely beat the peaceful marchers, as TV news crews filmed the beating, which included tear gas being sprayed and marchers being hit with clubs. Lewis suffered a fractured skull. The incident helped push momentum toward passage of the Voting Rights Act.


Before that, he was part of the Freedom Rides that resulted in civil rights advocates to ride interstate buses throughout the South. Some of the buses were set on fire, crowds of opponents would beat riders while police looked the other way, and Lewis and others found themselves jailed at one point in Mississippi. It wouldn’t be the last time he found himself behind bars as he continued to crusade for justice and equality.


Elected to Congress in 1986, Lewis served as a conscience of the Democratic Party. When the current president was inaugurated, Lewis boycotted, again using a big moment to make a point about ethics and morality. His body lies in state this week at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.


On Sunday, Lewis’ casket was carried across the Edmund Pettus Bridge one last time in a horse-drawn carriage, a fitting homage to the man and his lifetime of work, and a reminder to the rest of us that all of us can stand up as the son of sharecroppers did when the whole world was watching.


                                                                                                            BEN DIPIETRO




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