Moral courage, moral cowardice

I will be the first to admit I can be annoyingly addicted to business advice, leadership education, and becoming an overall better guy. Advice taken to heart recently – please know, despite what you may have heard, I strive for moral courage in both my personal and professional daily life:

From Nashville Business Journal, Nancy Reece Guest Column on Friday July 31, 2009


Making the right call can make all the difference

Jim was a self-described “yeller.” He knew he yelled, but rationalized his yelling with the phrase, “That’s who I am.”

One day, Jim made an “anonymous” phone call using derogatory terms for another staffer. His CEO, Mac, was struggling with what action he should take. I asked him, “What’s the right thing to do?” Mac’s response was that Jim should be let go, but he just hated to do that to a long-time employee. Mac would rather have Jim with his foibles than deal with a new employee. Mac didn’t have the courage to do the right thing.

Moral courage is that one thing that determines how successful you are in leadership. Charan and Colvin published an article in Fortune that outlined their research into CEO failure. The No. 1 issue was “the failure to put people in the right jobs and the failure to fix people problems in time.” They found that many leaders were “unable to deal with a few key subordinates whose sustained poor performance deeply harmed the company.”

Integrity in leadership isn’t just about knowing what the right thing to do is, it’s about doing the right thing. That takes moral courage. Moral courage impacts your ability to supervise and hold people accountable, to make the tough calls in times of crisis, to know when it’s time to pull the plug, to face up to the brutal facts.

Signs of a lack of moral courage include not taking tough stands with people, avoiding conflict, fear of being wrong or asking someone else to make a tough personnel call.

Adhering to a core set of values, acting in line with those values, rewarding the right values and doing the right thing add up to moral courage. As Peter Drucker once said, “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”

Nancy Reece is a master trainer and coach with The Human Capital Group Inc. She can be reached at

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