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Responding to the Urgent Imperative for Moral Leadership at all Levels, Dimensions, and Spheres of Society

An End of Year Message by Dov Seidman

by Dov Seidman
Founder and Executive Chairman

The holiday season is one of gratitude – and this year I’m particularly grateful for our community of common cause and the impact we were able to realize with your support. As The HOW Institute for Society continues to grow and expand, 2022 promises to be a monumental year for us. We look toward the future with hope and determination, with ever growing conviction and passion for our mission and waves we’ve been able to catalyze together. 

In my 2020 holiday note, I paused to reflect on the unprecedented crises of that year and all the ways it had changed us indelibly. Many of us thought or hoped that 2021 would be different. That it would perhaps be a year spent healing, engaging in critical conversations, and diligently working together to untangle the complicated issues that were further revealed, amplified, and accelerated by the pandemic. We rang in the new year still socially distant, still masked, still unvaccinated and yet, hopeful. Vaccines were on the horizon. The end was in sight. But in the new year, we realized – horrifically and painfully – that turning the page on this chapter of human history would not be as simple as turning the page on the calendar. The issues that bubbled to the surface during the pandemic have been brewing for longer than many of us have acknowledged. 

The knots that we began to untangle proved to be intertwined deeply and systemically with many aspects of our culture and society. We, as a community, responded by committing to a higher aspiration of leadership – as our board member Chip Bergh, the CEO of Levi’s reminds us, “Through this time of crisis, we will continue to be guided by our values and doing the harder right over the easier wrong.” We seek leadership that works to forge shared truths and engender an abundance of trust, and that scales deep, human moral values at all levels and in all spheres of society.

As 2021 unfolded, our aspirations became even more urgent. The spread of the Delta variant prolonged the pandemic. Polarizing opinions on wearing masks continued to divide us and put us at risk. Vaccines became available but there was widespread misinformation and untruths about their effectiveness – their implementation became a right/left issue instead of a nuanced conversation of rights and what was right for the individual and society. We’ve been in echo chambers for some time, but whole industries sprang up to actively divide us, feeding on low trust and perpetuating pernicious tribalism. 

Vaccination timelines and policies, access to public and private spaces and availability of medical needs continued to divide us, amplifying a medical crisis into a moral crisis. All the while, we also faced an economic crisis, as supply chains were exposed to be fragile and unsustainable. We continue to struggle with balancing the demand for goods and services with the human cost it takes to produce, move and deliver them. 

Perhaps the only beneficiary of the pandemic was the planet, it’s ecosystems and wildlife, but even those began to reverse as the world tried to return to business as usual, and catch up on metrics focused on how much we can – but didn’t – produce.

“Perhaps most poignantly, we came to fully appreciate how these crises were not located in some far-off land but had consequences for those we loved and for those we worked with.”

In 2020 it was front line workers who became the short-term heroes they always were. In 2021 it was those privileged enough to have worked virtually through the pandemic that came to cherish newfound freedoms and flexibility, fundamentally questioning their relationship with work and precipitating a “Great Resignation.” 

When medical, moral, economic, and employment crises combusted together, they formed a crisis of leadership and ushered us into a new age of leadership – one in which leaders are facing unfamiliar challenges and ever higher expectations from stakeholders throughout society. 

“It’s clear that political, social, environmental, biological, human, ethical, and moral issues that were once considered tangential to an organization’s agenda are increasingly now viewed as inescapably at the center of it.” 

As a community, we must encourage open dialogue and engage in discussion about the challenges to our shared truths, thus preventing us from ‘cancelling’ one another, and instead, converse. We are reminded that moral leaders show us, “What is possible when we each take up the mantle and choose to lead,” in the words of Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation and board member of  The HOW Institute. Thus, the Institute’s and our community’s imperative is to build, test and scale frameworks for leadership that can aid us in navigating this new age of leadership – helping to weigh which issues to engage with, how to engage in ways that are understood by all stakeholders and how to do so in ways that scale and thus endure. 

As we approach 2022 The HOW Institute is strengthening our efforts to be a source in crafting these frameworks for and with you. Please take a moment to learn more about our efforts to date in the pages below. 

NXT-GEN Fellowship 

The HOW Institute’s NXT-GEN Fellowship for Moral Leadership is designed for emerging managers and leaders navigating our increasingly interdependent and morally activated world. Founded on the philosophy that society can flourish only when positions of formal authority are occupied by leaders with moral authority, the fellowship engages fellows with the tools, language and coaching they need to inspire and scale values-based behavior in an increasingly complex world and workplace.

This year, our Spring and Fall cohorts were comprised of some 90 fellows from 15 countries on five continents. Fellows are leaders at leading companies like Mastercard, Levi Strauss & Co. and GSK Consumer Healthcare. The 15-week experience is structured around four pillars and seven practices of moral leadership and includes coaching, small group activities, peer feedback exercises, intentional community building sessions and a toolkit of practical activities. 

Fellows put their learning into action through practicum projects, which challenge them to apply moral leadership practices to current work projects. Some of these projects focused on management challenges, often catalyzed or amplified by the pandemic. For example, one fellow was responsible for establishing a values-based, global, Covid vaccine framework. Another fellow focused on establishing return to office protocols. 

96% of our Spring 2021 participants agreed that the fellowship inspired them to take on more responsibility in promoting moral leadership within their organizations. 

If you’d like to learn more about our NXT-GEN Fellowship and how you could get involved, please click here.

Leadership Conversations

A key part of our work is to amplify the voices of individuals who are on moral leadership journeys – those who are leading with courage, humility, integrity and vulnerability, those who are putting more truth and trust into the world. Whether featured in one of our HOW Conversations, imparting wisdom to our NXT-GEN fellows as a guest leader, or being selected as the winner of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Essay Contest – The HOW Institute for Society is proud to be a platform through which others can hear from inspiring leaders of all ages, backgrounds and professions. 

The Prize in Ethics award ceremony
October 14, 2021

We look to leaders in positions of formal authority to be sources of hope and inspiration through how they lead and how they serve. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) joined us for a HOW Conversation and spoke passionately about overcoming political division through moral leadership. Former astronaut Ellen Ochoa shared with our NXT-GEN fellows the meaning of finding the humanity in others and how that mindset dictates how she interacts with peers, subordinates, and superiors. 

To see our full library of discussions with leaders, please visit The HOW Institute for Society’s YouTube page. 

Senator Cory Booker

Ellen Ochoa
Former Director of NASA’s
Johnson Space Center

Sondra Samuels
President & CEO, Northside
Achievement Zone

Dr. David Agus
Director, Lawrence J. Ellison
Institute for Transformative

Jennifer Musisi
Leader in Residence,
Kennedy School

Research and Impact 

The HOW Institute for Society seeks to illuminate not just the headlines but the trendlines that shape and inform leadership today and in the future. Through research and metrics, we’ve come to validate some of our philosophical insight. But more importantly, we want this work to enhance our leaders to successfully navigate these current and anticipated challenges. For this reason, we have coupled philosophy and research as the heart of our work. 

In March 2021, we released our Human Connection in the Virtual Workplace study. Prior to the pandemic, human connection was already suffering, but we had an instinctive sense that given our physical distance from one another, it was imperative that leaders work harder – and differently – to create a sense of connection and community in a virtual workplace. 

While many factors influence human connection, our study showed that leadership is disproportionately consequential in shaping communities. In addition, the research also indicated that a certain type of leadership was critically important – workers felt more connected when their supervisors exhibited and embodied behaviors and attributes associated with moral leadership. 

Angela Ahrendts and Dov Seidman continued this conversation in a co-published article in Fortune, ‘How the Best Leaders Help Companies Build Deeper Connection in a Work-from-Home World.’ 

To learn more about our research, please click here.

Our Community and Virtual Gatherings

One of the most meaningful aspects of our work is fostering and growing our community of common cause. While there are many ways we engage our community and stay in touch, our private gatherings are always a highlight of the year for me. Together with The HOW Institute Board of Directors, we hosted two private, virtual gatherings this year – January 11th, 2021 and October 19th, 2021. We convened leaders from government, sports, media, business, military, non-profit, and education to discuss some of the most difficult and unique challenges of leading right now – and to chart a course forward. 

We are inspired by the community’s genuine expression that we should continue our important conversation. We are planning The HOW Institute for Society’s 2022 gatherings – both in-person and virtual. To learn more about our upcoming Summit on Moral Leadership please click here.

Closing Thoughts

As we look to the new year, we hope you will pause and reflect on the unprecedented journey we have been on together this year. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In the pause I hear the call.” In the pause, we reflect on where we are, reconnect to our values, rethink our assumptions, and reimagine a better path forward. In your pause, I hope you hear the call to join us – to continue your own journey of moral leadership and to contribute toward our shared vision for a better future. 

I look forward to continuing this journey together through 2022 and beyond. On behalf of The HOW Institute for Society Board of Directors and team, we wish you a joyful and healthy holiday season. 

With gratitude,