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In 2022, What does it take to be a Morally Minded Leader?

Frank C. Bucaro, CSP, CPAE

I have researched 6 characteristics of a morally minded leader.

  1. Accepts oneself and others as they are at any given moment.
    This is not a right or wrong moment, but one of personal growth. This means being at peace with who, what, and where you are in life. There is a sense of balance based on a belief system that all can experience.
  2. Experiences profound interpersonal relationships.
    Profound interpersonal relationships can only be based on shared values. Values would include trust, honesty, genuineness, consistency, other-centered, sensitivity, ethics, reliability, dependability, etc. These relationships take work, time, patience,  and commitment.
  3. Accepts reality and reflectively changes where needed.
    One has come to peace with the realization that virtue is not one isolated value, but a relationship between several values that need to be reflectively used to make and accept change in life that is based on purpose rather than just need.     
  4. Enjoys life and is creative.
    This point reminds me of the ancient text that says:” Make us know the shortness of our lives so that we may gain wisdom of the heart.” It’s the attitude that every day and everyone in it, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The moral leader doesn’t miss it.
  5. Demonstrates consistent behavior.
    This consistency runs through every aspect of one’s life,i.e. personal, home, and work-life. One is not one person at work and a different one at home. Values, by their very nature, are consistent. It’s the interpretation at times that is troubling.
  6. Trust oneself and be open to growth.
    To trust oneself is to know that life evolves and that evolution is an openness to change, grow, and adapt one’s values without altering them. The goal is to move from success to significance.

When I started to focus on the morality of business and values-based leadership in my research, I surveyed some past clients for their definitions of moral awareness. One of the most striking definitions I received was the following:

“Moral awareness is when one is in touch with one’s innate sense of morality and can feel the moral component of events. Someone who does not have moral awareness does not notice the moral cues provided to him/her by one’s psyche.”

Our business culture tends to shy away from using the word “moral” because it usually implies some sense of spirituality or religion, which may not fit succinctly in the business world. The challenge is this: you cannot mandate or enforce an innate sense of morality. However, we can create a corporate culture where acting most morally and ethically, is the norm. Morally aware people will be attracted to these types of ‘high-road’ companies. The morally unaware will be the minority.

And yet, how often have people tried to discern the difference between what are values, what is moral, and how to be ethical?

Imagine a three-legged stool. All three legs need to be solid and connected into the stool to be useful. So…………………………..

Imagine one leg is Values, another leg is Morals and the third leg is Ethics. Without all three solidly attached, the stool is useless.

Here’s a way to discern and appreciate the difference, and maybe why your ethics training may need to adapt it’s approach.

First, let’s define each one:

Values = Deal with a person’s judgment of what’s important in life.

Morals = Deal with principles of what is acceptable and what is not, what is negotiable and what is not.

Ethics = Deal with what’s right or wrong behavior based on Values and Morals.

Therefore, a truly ethical decision cannot be made without the understanding of the importance of one’s values and morals. You must have all three legs to be functional, steadfast, and can be accountable.

 A person needs to reflect and figure out what one’s values are before something happens otherwise emotions may cloud the decisions. One needs to know that one is accountable for their behavior, but without the discipline, education, and application of moral thinking, moral reasoning, moral discipline, etc. one can easily make the wrong decision. Again two legs are not a stool!

Therefore, if one makes a decision based on one’s values and what their ethics training taught them, it could likely be the wrong decision or at least ineffective because the morals leg of the stool is missing!

How do we do this? There are universal moral obligations that need to be enacted to produce and maintain a culture of trust.

  1. Put people first in decision-making:
    Every decision that is made affects people, the time to discern those effects is in the process of making the decision, not after the decision is made.
  2. Respect for individual human dignity:
    Always separate personhood from behavior. You have the right to disagree with one’s behavior, but no one has the right to attack one’s self-esteem!
  3. Treat all fairly:
    Everyone from the CEO down to the newly hired must “play” by the same rules, the same code of conduct, mission statement, values statement, code of ethics. Exceptions cannot be made if a true environment of trust is to be the norm.
  4. Be honest:
    Always tell the truth. If you tell one lie, then you’ll tell another one, and soon you forgot what you lied about, and it goes on and on. If you expect your people to tell you, the truth and they have the right to expect you to tell the truth!
    People will never accept change unless they trust the ones who created it. Honesty is the foundation of trust.

Written by Frank C. Bucaro, CSP, CPAE.
Have you read?
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Vulnerability and the modern leader by Kerry Swan.

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Frank C. Bucaro
Frank C. Bucaro is a business owner and author of the book The Trust Puzzle: How to Keep Your Company on the Ethical High Road. After an initial career in teaching, Frank transitioned to keynote and seminar programs. He has presented hundreds of programs to businesses, associations, and Fortune 500 companies on the subjects of ethics and values-based leadership. His programs have been a natural fit with organizations interested in reinforcing their commitment to ethics, and ethical leadership while reducing vulnerability to costly ethics problems. Frank is a member of the National Speakers Association and has earned the designation of CSP which stands for Certified Speaking Professional. Frank was also awarded NSA’s CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame Award for professional excellence, an award held by fewer than 182 people worldwide.


Frank C. Bucaro, CSP, CPAE is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.