Moral Leadership in Business: Now More Than Ever

I was honored to be a recent guest on The Modern Manager podcast with host Mamie Kanfer Stewart. We had a conversation about moral leadership in business–what it is, why it’s more important now than ever, and how to “exercise” one’s moral muscles. 

Shortly after this conversation, the Business Roundtable released a statement redefining the purpose of a corporation. It was signed by 181 chief executives who committed to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders, not just shareholders. If the case for moral leadership was strong before, it just became stronger. 

What will this mean for these CEOs to guide their organizations in realizing this new purpose statement? For it to truly change how they operate and make decisions, how they grapple with the hierarchy of their values? How they articulate a vision and create space for others to lead in this endeavor? 

In other words, what will it take for this statement to be more than a PR move, but a reality? 

LRN’s research on moral leadership in business suggests a path:

  1. Start with a pause to consider your “why” and that of your organization. Reconnect with what inspires you, and gain energy for the long haul. 
  2. See employees as people first, rather than interchangeable units. Moral leaders connect with hearts as well as minds.
  3. Foster freedom by inviting new voices and participants into the conversation, and extend trust to others to handle situations as they think best. 
  4. Demonstrate humility by asking for help, listening and learning from others, and seeking--as well as acting on--feedback, even when it’s tough. 
  5. Act with courage by standing up for what is right and making amends when you get it wrong.
  6. Seek the truth to ensure decisions and actions are the most fair and just thing to do; this inevitably will require the art of asking difficult questions, with respect.
  7. Uphold the highest ethical standards, starting with yourself. Remember rules can only take you so far; it’s not about what you can and can’t do, but what you should and shouldn’t do. Model that mindset and help others see it, too. 

The good news is moral leadership is scalable. One of the greatest determinants as to whether moral authority is present in an organization is the degree to which people at the top model it. We found three-quarters of managers and executives who exhibit moral leadership serve CEOs who also are described as leading with moral authority. The converse is true, too. 

I’m eager to watch how these 181 CEOs step into their own moral leadership.