What are the Traits of a Courageous Moral Leader?

October 12, 2020
Ben DiPietro

Leadership is about having the courage to pass judgement on the future, and deeply think about the forces that are driving the world. Unprecedented and unfamiliar forces not only are changing the world, they are dramatically reshaping it. 

Powerful technological, social, environmental, and economic forces have brought us closer together, and rendered us interdependent. Social, religious, geopolitical, environmental, human, and ethical issues that were once outside the business agenda now are part of the business agenda. 

The global pandemic accelerated and amplified these forces, how they work, how they reshape the world. “A tiny invisible pathogen has created the greatest leadership stress test at all levels and all sectors of society,” said LRN Founder and Chairman Dov Seidman, who was a special closing speaker on the need for courageous moral leaders as part of the United Nations Global Compact forum in late September. 

What started as a health crisis rapidly became a humanitarian crisis, then an economic crisis, then an unprecedented unemployment crisis, said Seidman, showing the global supply chain was built for speed and efficiency, not resilience and integrity. The pandemic also is a moral crisis laying bare deep truths, pervasive injustices, and inequalities. 

“When all of these crises combust simultaneously, we have a crisis of leadership and a crisis of authority,” he said. 

While the world can’t run properly without formal authority, what really makes a world work is when positions of formal authority are occupied by leaders with moral authority, said Seidman. Moral authority is earned, by who you are and how you lead; it involves more than activism, even though it does involve taking important positions on important issues. 

“Moral leadership is about the HOW: How you wield power, not over people, but through people. How you gain your authority, not by your title, but by your behavior. How you relate to others,” said Seidman. “Not coercively or motivationally, with carrots and sticks, but rather inspirationally. … They have the courage to see what others view as weaknesses as strengths: compassion, empathy, love, humility. Above all, moral leaders see the full humanity in others.” 

The leaders who pass this great leadership stress test will be those who use the pandemic not just for admirable human assistance, but to strengthen or transform their organizations to put humanity at the center of all decisions and actions. 

“In a post-pandemic world, they won’t go back to selling; they will take the qualities they manifested in crisis--sacrifice, empathy, compassion--and pivot away from saving and toward serving,” said Seidman. “In this regard, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, taken as a whole, serve as a powerful framework for what we need to do. And Goal 16: peace, justice, and strong institutions is the HOW; how we will get there.

“We must no longer see it as a goal; Goal 16 cannot be a goal, it has to be our urgent imperative that animates everything else.”

About the Author

Ben DiPietro

Joined LRN in October 2018 after 30 years as a journalist, including seven years at The Wall Street Journal, including Risk & Compliance Journal and was a creator of the WSJ Crisis of the Week column. In 2015 was named one of the 100 most influential people in business ethics by Ethisphere Institute. Spent 14 years as a reporter in Hawaii, 11 with The Associated Press.

More Content by Ben DiPietro

Most Recent Posts

Setting a Board Strategy for E&C: The E&C Pulse

Setting a Board Strategy for E&C: The E&C Pulse

For all the talk about E&C, most boardrooms still don’t have a strategy to serve as the foundation for their oversight of the function.

Learn More
Pandemic Boosts Risks, Puts E&C Under Pressure

Pandemic Boosts Risks, Puts E&C Under Pressure

Companies are seeing new and heightened compliance risks caused by the coronavirus, but some compliance programs may be losing a step.

Learn More
Four Challenges to Effective Board Oversight of ESG: The E&C Pulse

Four Challenges to Effective Board Oversight of ESG: The E&C Pulse

Four challenges boards face in their quest to provide strong and meaningful oversight of ESG, ideas on how to overcome some of the hurdles.

Learn More