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  • Emily Witter

Moral Leadership - doing the right thing


The recent Oxfam revelations have highlighted that sadly there are some less than moral people in all sectors of society, even those we think should be taking the lead. The Church of England is equally facing tough questions about its moral leadership with thousands of sexual abuse allegations outstanding and the entertainment industry is struggling to come to terms with the sexual discrimination and harassment allegations.

So what do we mean by “moral leadership” as quoted by UK Government Minister Penny Mordant this week? How do we begin to describe and quantify it?

I like to keep things simple and as a keen sailor I like the analogy of a moral compass. I don’t think you can go far wrong if you use your values to build a moral compass guiding your actions and behaviours. Ten years ago I was involved in identifying the core values of the Royal Navy and they have stood the test of time and are equally relevant for any organisation, not just the military.


Courage – the moral courage to do the right thing. How many “Nelsonian Eyes” were turned in the film world in the last 30 years? As a leader, popularity should never be sought at the expense of doing what is best for the individual and the organisation. We should also celebrate the courage of whistle blowers who expose unacceptable practices and behaviours.

Commitment – If you sign up to a task or a project then you are morally bound to commit to it! We can all relate stories of where a half-hearted approach by both organisations and employees has led to failure. Remember this works both ways – not only should employees commit to doing a fair days work for a fair days pay, but organisations need to commit to their people’s welfare and personal development.

Discipline – we need to be disciplined in all our work activities. Meeting deadlines, turning up for meetings on time, supporting the vision, mission and strategic objectives, carrying out all our duties with equal vigour. And again this works both ways. Organisations need to show discipline and consistency in how they establish and implement their policies.

Respect – if you expect people to respect you because of your position, title, rank or pay grade you are in big trouble! Respect is earned by your actions and by leading by example. Respecting and embracing alternative views can bring huge benefits

Integrity – when working on the Royal Navy values this was the one which was almost ubiquitous when seeking opinions. Equally it was the hardest to describe but almost everybody said “you know it when you see it”. I liken it to trust - it takes a lifetime to earn and a second to lose. It is doing the “right thing” all of the time.

Loyalty – loyalty, like trust, is earned not demanded. Organisation usually expect their employees to be loyal to them but do they ensure the organisation is loyal to the employee? When an individual needs support the most does the organisation step up to the plate or ignore their plight? Equally as an individual do we show loyalty to our team and colleagues or just look after No. 1?

“The Right Thing” – this is subjective isn’t it? One person’s “right thing” might be another’s unacceptable behaviour? Well I think we can all agree on a set of basic human principles irrespective of race, colour, creed, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Whatever our background we can all agree that respect, compassion, understanding, generosity, caring and support are good things. In contrast discrimination on any grounds, cruelty, intolerance, prejudice and bigotry are all bad things.

We don’t need academic studies and focus groups to tell us what is right and wrong. Just treat people how you would like to be treated – not new but still valid.

Nigel Langhorn is a leadership development expert.

#leadership