“He who does not punish evil commands it to be done.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
“Perfect courage means doing unwitnessed what we would be capable of with the world looking on.”
~ La Rochefoucauld
“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their mind to be good or evil.”
~ Hannah Arendt
What’s “moral courage”?
Moral courage means doing the right thing even at the risk of inconvenience, ridicule, punishment, loss of job or security or social status…. etc. i.e. “I believe in a cause that is greater than myself”. It means to have uncompromising standards. It’s transforming selfishness into selflessness. It’s holding to a standard and doing what is right regardless of the immediate consequences.
Many people are unsure of their level of moral courage. If you have ever watched the show “What would you do”, hosted by John Quinones, there are many examples of scenarios that put people into positions where they have a choice to make. Either intervene or stand by and watch. After the experiment, John asks the participants why they either intervened or failed to intervene. What I’ve gathered from watching the show, is that people in general have a hard time with adhering to their morals under duress… In other words… they aren’t inclined to respond to others in an empathetic way because they don’t yet understand their moral responsibility to others. They might also lack morals all together.
It reminds me of a story I once heard. A certain military major had the duty and honor of flying an important and well respected general down to a presidential dinner. At one point the major realized that the weather would be too bad to fly to the white house. He informed the general about it and had made the decision to land the plane in Dallas. The general said “MAJOR! I HAVE to be at the president’s dinner this evening. I am ORDERING you to stay the course”..! At this, the major’s knees began to shake, but he took a deep swallow and said “General, I’m sorry for the inconvenience but I am in command of this aircraft and I am taking this plane down”.
When the plane landed, the general busted out of there hoping that he would find a connecting flight to his destination but he couldn’t. He had missed the president’s dinner. Three weeks later, the major was called into the office by the general and he said “Major, do you know why you’re here”? “No, sir, I surely don’t” replied the major. “You’re here,” the general explained, “because you stopped me from doing a stupid thing. I need people working for me who will stop me from doing stupid things”.
The moral of the story is, you were hired to use your brain. If the boss is wrong, he’s wrong. You’re morally responsible to step in if they’re making a major mistake… even if you believe it will cost you your job.
Examples of moral courage:
- helping a co-worker to push a car out of a snowbank, even if it means being late
- standing up to a bully on the job
- refusing to listen to or repeat gossip
- turning in a toy or a wallet to the Lost and Found
- a teen who calls home for a ride from a party where alcohol is being served
- a leader who gives all students an equal voice regardless of race, socioeconomic status, religion, gender or sexual orientation
- a company whistle blower risking job loss, financial cost, and or legal repercussion
- reporting a crime
- going on strike
Examples of a Lack of moral courage:
- walking away from someone in need because you don’t care.
- laughing at someone’s misfortune or accident
- remaining silent in the face of wrong-doing or injustice
- rationalizations or justifications for action/lack of action
- choosing sides based on the general consensus
Am I ethically required to have “moral courage” as a leader?
In my opinion all ethical leaders should have moral courage. A leader has to have the courage to make tough decisions in leadership. The reason why those decisions are tough is because they test and stretch his moral compass. They try his ability to stand up for what is right. Many leaders struggle with these kinds of decisions on a regular basis. It’s important that we as leaders ask ourselves important questions when we face ethical dilemmas that require us to exercise moral courage.
Here are some questions leaders should ask themselves:
When are you expected to intervene?
When is it hard for you to intervene?
Where do I draw the line?
Can I really do what is expected?
What role am I supposed to play?
Should I feel guilty?
Is this out of my control?
I talk about those questions and more in my new book “The Ethical Leadership Handbook”. It’s available on Amazon right now. To find out more about me or my literature, visit www.aimeecolbert.com.