Moral Leadership is now a Survival Skill: A Message From Dov Seidman

At The HOW Institute for Society, we embrace the saying often attributed to Einstein that not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. We also believe in the business adage that what you measure is what you get, and, therefore, it’s appropriate to manage what you measure. More fundamentally, we choose our metrics and, in so doing, when we choose to measure something, we signify that it matters. When we choose not to measure something, we signify that it does not matter. Metrics are thus a window into what we value and, more importantly, our values, and as such they reflect moral choices.
At the heart of The HOW Institute’s mission is our dedication to developing novel metrics that delve into the how of leadership, decision-making, and behavior. Today we launched The 2024 State of Moral Leadership in Business report. It is the latest in an ongoing study of the presence of moral leadership and how, when it is present, it inspires elevated behavior in people, shapes values-based organizational cultures, strengthens performance, nurtures meaningful relationships within teams, and builds stronger links to society and communities.
This year’s findings reinforce our conviction that the need for this very kind of leadership is more urgent than ever.
Business has been challenged—from all sides—in unprecedented and unfamiliar ways. Today’s leaders have been navigating a global pandemic; economic destabilization; reimagined remote and hybrid workplaces; an expanded model of capitalism that includes various stakeholders in addition to shareholders; technological advances such as generative AI, which challenge human dignity and autonomy; geopolitical conflicts in Europe and the Middle East that have shaken international alliances and strained interpersonal relationships; and the rise of autocratic leaders around the globe.
And as business leaders grapple with these overlapping challenges, workers have become more anxious and stressed as well. Inflation, return-tooffice demands, the isolation of remote work, and burnout have sparked a growing mental health crisis in the workplace.
While some companies are struggling to get people back in the office, others are using technology to monitor how they spend their time once there—indicative of the rapidly expanding trust gap between employers and employees.
At the same time, the rise of generative artificial intelligence (exemplified by products such as ChatGPT) is both presenting businesses with opportunities for positive transformation and raising deep questions about the role of humans in the workplace of the future.
How we work, where we work, and the very nature of humanity in an AIpowered workplace are being reconsidered more fundamentally and at a greater scale than ever before.
When economic, social, political, technological, moral, and human crises combust together, like this, they create a crisis of leadership.
Today’s leaders are facing unfamiliar challenges and ever-increasing expectations from stakeholders across society. In times of such crisis, people naturally look to authority—to those in charge—for honest answers, principled decisions, and courageous actions. They look to leaders for hope—and hope can only be fostered by leaders who bring out the best in people, who inspire collaboration, a common purpose, and future possibilities.
Unfortunately, many business leaders seem overwhelmed by employees’ and stakeholders’ demands for clear public statements on social and political issues, regardless of whether these issues impact them personally. In the current Zeitgeist, the term “moral confusion” has emerged as a catch-all term to describe a critical leadership challenge: The need for CEOs and other leaders to rely on strong moral frameworks that can inform the issues with which they engage, empower them to engage in a manner that all stakeholders understand, and give them the tools to do so at scale, over the long term.
The single greatest leadership challenge of the 21st century is, therefore, to nurture and develop moral leaders who lead with moral authority and ensure that these leaders, and only these leaders, occupy positions of formal authority at every level, sector, and dimension of society.
It is my sincere hope that this year’s report will encourage leaders to take the deliberate and necessary steps to build their own moral authority, scale moral leadership across their organizations, and seize the opportunities of our reshaped world.
The future is unwritten, but moral courage remains our most potent agent of change. Our shared destiny hinges on a shared commitment to scaling moral leadership at all levels—but lasting change starts with individual awareness and responsibility.
Moral leadership requires us to take inventory of our own motives regularly and to acknowledge any misalignments between our espoused values and actions. It asks us to continually challenge assumptions and broaden perspectives. And it calls us to higher levels of empathy, integrity, and care in how we relate to our colleagues, partners, customers, and communities.
Moral leaders recognize the power of narratives— not just corporate reports—to inspire change. The stories we tell about who we are, and where we are going, matter. Moral leaders craft compelling narratives that appeal to the universal desire for purpose, creativity, achievement, and legacy. They understand that numbers may provide the case for change, but stories spark the emotional conviction to actualize it. Leadership has always required courage, but today’s turbulent times amplify this demand.
Moral leadership means bravely embracing transparency, fallibility, and interdependency. It means resisting the temptation to take false refuge in simplistic ideals, and it centers on opening ourselves and our organizations to continuous disruption and transformation.
None of this is easy or comfortable. But it is necessary. For it is only by courageously advancing moral leadership that we can create possibilities for societal flourishing. And it is only by elevating the influence of moral leaders (and pushing back on old paradigms of self-interest) that we can hope to solve humanity’s most pressing challenges.
I’d invite you to explore the full report here:
The Moral Leadership Report 2024 | The HOW Institute for Society