Academic journal article Harvard International Review

Moral Leadership: Beyond Management and Governance

Academic journal article Harvard International Review

Moral Leadership: Beyond Management and Governance

Article excerpt

Perhaps at no other time in recent history has the question of leadership been so acutely relevant and so dramatically posed. The diplomatic struggle at the United Nations over the fate of Iraq, the decision by the United States and Britain to launch a war against Iraq after failing to secure authorization for their project from the United Nations, and the massive anti-war protests around the world all dramatized issues of leadership and governance at the individual, institutional, national, and international levels.

The rapidly proliferating literature on leadership is dominated by the concept of leadership as effective management of private corporations. The much smaller field of leadership studies that focuses on public policy is also concerned with the notion of effectiveness, though usually in a sociopolitical context. The result is usually a catalogue of skills, attitudes, and characteristics of the successful corporate leader, the effective administrator, the efficient policy maker,the decisive commander, and the can-do-mentality governor.

Leadership, however, is different from management and governance. The latter are neutral descriptions of the activities and mechanism of management and administration, and understandably excellence in these areas requires certain skills. Leadership, on the other hand, is--or at least ought to be--normatively apprehended as a set of values with connotations evocative of the higher achievements of the human spirit. Leadership, therefore, is irrevocably tied to morality. Measured by its results, leadership in whatever field should be the vision-driven achievements of those people who are able to transform their environment, morally elevate their followers, and chart new paths of progress and human development. As a concept, leadership should mean a set of values dedicated to promoting human development for the common good of people in a democratic environment, both at the national and international levels.

Leaders and Managers

The literature on leadership as effective management describes the effective manager/leader as a person able to think proactively, strike a balance between task-orientation and people-orientation, have a vision, to inspire commitment to work, invest in trust, and be an effective communicator. The catalogue of skills and characteristics is lengthy. The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. Alternatively, leadership has been defined as the ability to achieve results, not popularity; the ability to think pro-actively in order to understand first and be understood; the ability to see the periphery, appreciate unconventional ideas, and transform the fear of change into positive turbulence.

But in the rush to catalogue the range of skills, attitudes, and behaviors associated with leadership understood as effective management of private corporations, little attention was paid to the moral dimension of leadership. When corporate scandals erupted in the United States in 2002, there were many questions about accountability and corporate governance. There was hardly any question about the meaning of leadership that was lavishly bestowed upon those powerful corporate leaders of yesterday. Hardly anybody noticed or regretted the absence of a moral dimension from our obsessive association of corporate management with the notion of leadership.

The smaller but growing literature on public policy leadership is less oblivious to this moral dimension than the literature on management leadership. Indeed, cognitive studies stress that good leaders are people who have excellent communication skills, interest in expanding their views, and concern for moral issues. Studies like those done by scholar Warren Bennis distinguish between managers and leaders by arguing that "leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right." Leadership has also been associated with the higher values in the human needs hierarchy--a type of leadership that has been described as "transformational leadership," which satisfies the higher needs of self-actualization in followers, and, in the process, transforms them. …

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