What is Moral Leadership?

The imperative of moral leadership is more evident than ever before.

Today, the world is fundamentally fused and morally activated. Each of us has the power to do good or harm at a scale like never before. With one swipe or post, we can put ourselves into intimate proximity with one another, regardless of our distance. These connections can deepen our empathy, but they can also spread vitriol and disinformation with breathtaking speed.
At the same time, artificial intelligence has redefined how work is done. Increasingly, machines are not just outproducing and out-processing us; they are outthinking us. This challenges us to focus on and scale the unique ways humans contribute and create value. We must build moral leaders within our organizations.
Together, these unprecedented forces have radically reshaped our world, often faster than we have yet been able to reshape ourselves, our institutions, and our leadership. Organizational leaders across all sectors must no longer just do the next things right—tasks machines can easily do—but rather do the next right things.
Human systems cannot function without formal leaders. Some of us are parents, some coaches, some educators, some managers, some executives, some elected officials, and the list goes on. Take a moment to reflect. Each of us leads, in some way, every day of our lives.
But what makes organizations—and ultimately all the institutions that make up our society—really work is when formal leaders have moral authority too. While formal authority can be seized, won, or bestowed, moral authority must be earned by who you are and how you lead.
Above all, moral leadership is about how leaders touch hearts, not just minds. Only moral authority can build trust, inspire others, create meaning, and help people imagine a different and better future—enable them to contribute their fullest talent, realize their deepest humanity, and do the next right things.
Moral leadership is a precious resource, but it need not be a scarce one.

Moral Leadership Pillars

Moral Leadership Practices

The qualities of a good moral leader are contingent on the chosen framework for behavior. This framework is built upon four fundamental principles: Let Purpose Lead; Inspire and Elevate Others; Be Animated by Values; and Build Moral Muscle.
Moral leadership, as addressed in our Moral Leadership Report, stresses the importance of connection, inspiration, and a deep sense of purpose. Moral leaders are not simply well-behaved. They role-model and catalyze elevated behavior by enlisting those they lead into journeys of significance, guided by shared values. In other words, they don’t just follow the rules and concern themselves with what they can do. They are obsessed with the question: “What should I do?”
Ethical leadership refers to a leadership approach that emphasizes adhering to established codes of conduct and principles, often guided by external standards and rules. Moral leadership, on the other hand, focuses on personal values, integrity, and the internal sense of right and wrong, often involving a deeper connection to one’s own beliefs and convictions.
While effective leaders do not necessarily have to be moral in all aspects, possessing strong moral values can significantly enhance their ability to inspire trust, make ethical decisions, and create a positive impact on their team and organization.