On Moral Leadership

“The central concept is influence rather than authority. Both are dimensions of power but the latter tends to reside in formal positions, such as the principal or headteacher, while the former could be exercised by anyone in the school or college. Leadership is independent of positional authority while management is linked directly to it.”

– Tony Bush (2012) Theories of Educational Leadership and Management

Leadership requires the ability to influence the behavior or decisions of other people.  From this perspective, leadership might look a lot like advertising, or marketing.  In this TED talk, Seth Godin (speaking as a marketer) makes important distinctions between these.  To be a leader, he says, is to be a heretic.

But Godin fails to give his audience any direction on what it takes to be an effective leader.  There is a vast literature on leadership styles, and any number of effective mechanisms by which to influence others toward pro-social goals (i.e., goals that are good for the entire group, not just one or a few people).

One style of leadership that is often overlooked is moral leadership.  That is, the type of leader that is able to influence others thru moral persuasion.  In this case, the leader does not bribe, or bully, or appeal to the self-interest of others — but to their sense of fairness, justice, or some other foundational moral principle.

This type of moral leadership typically requires sacrifice.  It requires that the leader take personal risks, and from these risks often comes moral credibility.

4 thoughts on “On Moral Leadership

  1. jonathanedgington

    Machiavelli, states that in order to lead, you must first understand what needs to be done in order to lead yourself before others.

    This is a quote from his book: The prince “ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves.

    Knowing what to do when, can make the difference between bullying & leading or
    managing & oppressing others around you.

  2. Trevor W

    The leaders I above me in the Army often demonstrated leadership. A quality of great leadership is respect. To gain respect, you led by example.

  3. Ken

    In my opinion, the best way to lead is by example. If you have to convince someone to change the way they think, then it creates a fine line between manipulation and leadership……however, if a single person or a group of people change their perspective based on what they see or experience, that’s true leadership!


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