Mastering Moral Courage…Or, Why Leadership Is So Hard

Leaders overcome moral challenges by exercising moral courage.

Moral courage is the mastery of the fear of social consequences such as being perceived as disloyal, alienation, ridicule, punishment, job loss, or loss of social status.

In some cases, the right choice is crystal clear. In other cases, the correct course of action is not so clear. In the end, leaders must always accept full responsibility for their actions.

Gaining moral ascendancy requires that subordinates feel that their leaders genuinely care for them, that they are fighting for a worthy cause, and that their sacrifices are not made in vain.

Acting as a buffer to protect subordinates is a key responsibility of any leader. This is where moral courage is usually confronted. Especially in large and bureaucratic organizations where rapid decision making is a challenge.

The ancient philosopher Confucius phrased it this way, “To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.”

Moral courage is an act of private courage, a form of conscience that can often be an even tougher challenge than physical courage. It serves as a bedrock foundation in our leadership philosophy and must be met every day; particularly when times are smooth and good.

If a leader does not have the moral courage in good times to meet consistently high standards and expectations, then they are not likely to have the moral courage to make difficult decisions in challenging times.

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