Moral leadership: what’s in it for you as a leader?

Maybe the terms moral leadership and ethical leadership make you itch. Because they seem like such open doors. And isn’t it just another management hype? Because, of course, as a leader you strive for moral values. Well, in an ideal world. Because the recent banking crisis has taught us that it is not so obvious at all. It is precisely the current era that calls for moral leadership.

In early 2019, Alex Brenninkmeijer published the
book ‘Moral Leadership’.
. The former judge, former national ombudsman and former member of the European Court of Auditors is concerned about developments in the world, where strong leaders send out false messages and erode democratic values. He writes: ‘We tend to simplify the complexities of society and make them manageable by quick assumptions and prejudices. But it is about civilization, and in this it is not the alpha male (the autocratic leader) but ethos that is most important.’

Especially now, moral leadership is urgently needed, argues Brenninkmeijer. Founded on values such as sincerity, moderation and reasonableness. Brenninkmeijer talks about the importance of striving for ‘slow thinking’. Because, according to him, this is the only way to arrive at good considerations, in this ‘fast-paced era’ in which people allow themselves to be carried away by one-liners and the powerful language of strong leaders. So moral leadership, also in organisations. Especially in organisations.

What is moral leadership?

Moral leadership means that you are aware of the values that you yourself consider important. That you are aware of the (core) values of the organisation where you work. And that you can stand behind it. And more is needed. After all, it is important that you actually live these values. That you propagate them and apply them concretely. Organisation expert Lenette Schuijt gave an inspiring lecture on this subject in 2013: ‘.
With soul and professionalism towards vital organisations’.

Always be aware that you are actually doing that. Because due to all kinds of circumstances, that can go wrong. It could be, for example, that you still get on the wrong side of an employee because you are the boss. While respect is an important value to you. Don’t be surprised if that happens to you; you’re only human too. But it’s important that you come back. And that you learn from it. Also, make sure you really integrate the values. Create a safe environment where colleagues dare to call each other to account for not living up to values. But then those values have to be clear to everyone. If not, moral leadership will remain an abstract or even hollow concept.

Moral leadership: 4 points to watch out for

It is precisely because moral leadership seems to be such an elusive concept that it can be difficult to determine whether or not compliance is going well. Nevertheless, there are some significant signs. Four points to watch out for:

Don’t get stuck on fancy words

What often happens is that it stays with nice words. Neatly recorded and also neatly communicated. But in practice little comes of it. The intention is there, but the action is not. Everything stays the same. This is not surprising, because real change is difficult. Especially if, as a leader, you don’t really live the values of the organization.

Think for yourself

Another thing that often happens is that someone doesn’t think for themselves. Suppose Nelson Mandela is your great example. What does he inspire you with? And what does that mean for your own behaviour and your specific role? And how does that work out? In short: think critically yourself. And shape your role as it suits you and as you see fit. Do not copy blindly what you have been taught or prescribed.

Prevent competition between employees and departments

In some organizations it is still done on purpose: stimulating competition between teams and employees. The argument is that this motivates people to perform well. My experience is that this is actually counterproductive. It is far better to avoid such images of enemies and instead focus on the question: How can we make each other better?

Don’t hide behind protocols

Too many organizations have their processes locked down with all kinds of protocols. Of course, protocols are important so you don’t overlook anything. But protocols must not become straitjackets that you work through mechanically. Because in doing so, you forget the people.

These competencies are important to leaders

Dr. Sunnie Giles, the US leadership expert, asked 195 leaders worldwide about the leadership competencies they consider important. This showed, among other things, that 67% of those questioned ascribe high ethical and moral standards to themselves.

Some more figures from the same study:

  • 59% say they steer towards self-organisation. Remarkable is that they do like to interfere with the how-question (while
    employees know that very well themselves
  • 56% of respondents say they communicate expectations clearly
  • 52% have the flexibility to change their mind
  • 43% are committed to lifelong learning
  • 39% are open to new ideas and approaches
  • 38% create an atmosphere of shared success and failure
  • 38% want to grow towards a new generation leader, because that helps them to grow in a rapidly changing environment
  • 37% create a safe environment of trial and error

Creating value, also for people and the environment

It is what Alex Brenninkmeijer says: the current times call for moral leadership. Leaders who take personal and organisational values as their starting point. Who live these values, apply them and secure them in an organisation or team. A moral leader dares to put the essence first again. The focus is not on the blind pursuit of maximum profit, but on the role that the organisation fulfils in society. Why do we do what we do? And what are we really aiming for?

A moral leader gives employees professional autonomy. On the basis of the mission and the shared ambition, they achieve the objectives as they see fit. They make a lot of decisions themselves. Another important factor is fruitful horizontal cooperation between partners. This means that organisations, teams and employees work together at an early stage and make joint agreements about processes, schedules and prices. After all, together you are stronger.

And last but not least: a moral leader also creates multiple value. Where it is not only the financial interests that count, but also the people and the environment.
Value-creating leadership
In other words, with the aim of solving a social problem or making a difference to the environment. Or to come up with sustainable alternatives for environmentally harmful products.

Do you want to know more about value creating leadership? Then download the ebook Leadership in the Economy of Value below. Or
click here
for our leadership training courses.

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dr. Pim Valentijn

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