The assumption that leadership is a family legacy or a genetic gift is a fallacy and many projects and organizations based on this assumption have failed miserably. Becoming a leader is a prompted process of growth that must be lived out experientially. To be a good leader, one must be able to say ‘yes’ and sometimes ‘no’ to a non-ending series of tests, small and large, each demanding that one take a few more steps towards a definition of the set of values and beliefs that defines that person. Leadership calls for one to be ready to define the values, character, and one’s leadership style. Indeed, leadership is a unending responsibility, which becomes a way of life, not only in the line of duty, but within families, the community, and the world at large. From the outset, it is important to note that ethics is the heart and soul of effective leadership. Indeed, leadership and ethics should go hand in hand as the power that comes from leadership can be used for good as well as evil. When one assumes the benefits of leadership, he should also assume ethical burdens. Therefore, it is important that leaders develop an understanding of ethics by analyzing their values, morals, ethics and their systems of ethical decision making.
Personal Moral Philosophy
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In my life, morality and ethics have been developing since my formative years. My parents, teachers, and the other responsible members of the community influenced many of my decisions, either in school, or with family and friends. My teachers and parents advised what was considered immoral or unethical. Notably, through their support, I went through a process of trial and error where I was condemned for what was wrong and praised for what was right. As I grew older and developed a better understanding of my environment, I was able to develop innate moral values that have acted as my point of reference when I am faced with an important decision with a moral dilemma. By consolidating my values and beliefs, I have, with time, developed a philosophy that is composed of the following core elements; fairness, respect, duty, loyalty, selfless, integrity, and courage.
I believe in equity and that every person should be treated with fairness irrespective of his or her faith, race, culture, or political allegiance. In all my undertakings, I am consciously aware of how fair acts of omission or commission are to other people. If people feel that my actions are unfairly balanced against them, they will want more or give less. Integrity is the other important component of my personal moral philosophy. I believe that it is important to always do the right thing, even when no one is watching and especially when the choice of doing the contrary is easier. By staying true to myself and my values even when faced with serious consequences for the choices that I make is the best thing that I can do. By living with integrity, my actions speak for who I am and what I believe in. by operating from integrity, I have been able to gain trust of other people, especially those close to me1. Others see me as a dependable person who is accountable for his actions. As a result, I have been able to become a role model to people as communities, families and friends want someone they can trust and respect.
The other core important element of my personal moral philosophy is courage. Growing up, I saw many people falter or make unethical decision because of lack of courage. I believe that courage is an important virtue in guarding one’s beliefs and values2.
1. McCoy, B H. Living into leadership. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.
2. Kouzes, J M, and B Posner. The Leadership Challenge. John Wiley and Sons: New York, 2007.
My belief is that courage gives one the ability to accept people as they are, not as one would like them to be. It has also given me the capacity to approach problems in terms of the present rather than the past.
Additionally, I am able to trust others, even if the risk seems great, and perform my duties without constant approval and recognition from others.
Duty, Outcome and Virtue
Whenever a decision with an ethical angle is made, there is always an agent acting on certain principle geared towards certain outcomes. Whatever the dilemma or situation, duty, virtue and consequences will remain the same; an agent, actions taken, and outcomes of the result. The three elements define an “Ethical Triangle” where all ethical decisions must be framed3. Since nothing else is involved in decision making processes other than actions taken, people acting, and outcomes that result from those actions, the triangle represents a complete framework of ethical systems. All the three elements are included in my philosophy as they form the foundation on which I have developed the other elements.
Just like many other personal moral philosophies, there are certain strengths that exist in my philosophy. One of the strengths is that it is easily accessible as people share the same rationality; it easily appeals to the sense that people share the same morality. The philosophy is more than just people’s inclinations and preferences. Even though different individuals and cultures may reach different conclusions on what is right or wrong, there is a prevailing sense that the elements of my philosophy are intrinsic value.
1. Kidder, R M. Moral courage. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. , 2005.
The other strength is that the philosophy concentrates on universal human character and allows for some measure of flexibility as it has the potential for goodness rather than on what is right or wrong.
Weaknesses too do exist in this philosophy. For example, the espoused values depend on the acceptance that good is what is found in nature.
However, evil too does exist and strict adherence to this philosophy can generate more evil than good. The other weakness is that the philosophy goes against the ‘portfolio’ thinking of the contemporary world that recognizes he variety of functions that different people can fulfill.
The framework upon which my personal moral philosophy rests borders on the moral and legal foundation on which professional military ethics are founded. The moral foundation of the military is an extension of traditions that some wars are justified. The core values of the military service are a reflection of the honor, personal courage, and integrity in commitment to the ideals of the government. As espoused in my personal moral philosophy, the army presents values such selfless service, courage, and duty.
Effective leadership cannot exist without ethics. In the military, ethics are important as many decisions have serious ramifications. By consistently abiding to a set moral philosophy, it becomes easier to avoid certain pitfalls that are caused by making unethical decisions. To positively influence leadership, ethical behavior must be practiced and modeled by leaders and those they lead respectively. Indeed, ethics and leadership go hand in hand and every leader has a responsibility to adopt moral philosophy and make ethics a way of life.