Moral Leadership


There seems to be considerable attention focused on the moral attributes of leaders such as honesty, integrity, compassion, and courage.  O’Toole (1996) describes this phenomenon as “values-based leadership” and posits that good ethics and morality directly influence a person’s leadership quality.  He points out that leadership based solely on contingency theory typically relies on a relativistic approach to ethics. Leaders, consequently, will employ tactics that are relative to achieving acceptable results in the current situation without regard for long-term effects, and this is exactly the phenomenon we see as the product of the leadership exhibited by the President and many congressional leaders. In addition, if a leader has good core values, he should work to induce his followers to adopt these values as their own and in so doing, will reduce resistance to leadership.

In addition to good core values, leaders should be fully cognizant of the relationship between honesty and trust especially since followers regard honesty as the most important leadership characteristic according to the following table.  In fact, Covey (Mahoney, 1997) points out that honesty is the basis for building trust between leaders and their followers.  Trust provides the foundation of establishing mutual respect which should then produce mutual benefits such as increasing group synergy and improving understanding between leaders and their organization’s stakeholders.



Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (1993). Credibility : how leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it (1st ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Mahoney, A. I. (1997). Senge, Covey, and Peters on leadership lessons. Association Management, 49 (1), 3.

O’Toole, J. (1996). Leading change: The argument for values based leadership. New York: Random House, Inc.


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