Nur University in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, began teaching moral leadership in 1994, based on a conceptual framework of 6 elements.
1) Service-Oriented Leadership
2) The Purpose of Leadership: Personal and Collective Transformation:
3) The Moral Responsibility to Investigate and Apply Truth
4) A Conviction of the Essential Nobility of Human Beings
6) Development of Capabilities
Service-Oriented Leadership: Although a leader may have greater knowledge or skills than others in the group, he does not use them to dominate others, but rather to serve them, helping others to develop their capabilities. He is motivated by love for others or for an ideal or cause. He does not try to glorify himself, but rather freely shares the credit for any successful endeavors.
Personal and Collective Transformation: Personal transformation refers to the development of capabilities and moral qualities. Collective transformation implies contributing to the creation of a just, united, peaceful society. When a person is engaged simultaneously in both types of transformation, these form a virtuous circle. The more qualities and capabilities a person develops, the greater the impact he can have on collective transformation. Likewise, the commitment to collective transformation serves as motivation to acquire new capabilities and qualities, as they are needed, or to further develop existing ones. Belonging to a formal or informal group of like-minded people inspires each member in his efforts towards transformation and helps him to resist being absorbed by negative practices of current society. Furthermore, the group, or organization, can have a much greater impact on collective transformation than the same members working individually.
The Moral Responsibility of Investigating and Applying Truth: Rather than defining morality as a series of virtues to be practiced, the conceptual framework calls each person to investigate truth for himself, and then to consistently apply in his life those truths of which he has become convinced. Both contingent truth and ideal truth need to be investigated. The investigation of contingent truth implies openness to different perspectives or interpretations of a particular aspect of reality, as it is. The investigation of ideal truth leads to the identification of principles in which the person believes and to which he can commit himself. Once a person, through his own investigation, has become convinced that a certain principle, such as justice, is true, he then acquires the moral obligation to strive to practice it in all aspects of his life--with his family, in his business dealings, and in the community. The investigation of ideal truth leads to the formulation of a principle-based vision. With a clear understanding of contingent truth and the definition of a principle-based vision, it becomes relatively easy to identify steps that will lead from one to the other.
A Convection of the Essential Nobility of Human Beings: Humans have a dual nature. While the lower nature leads to negative attitudes and actions, such as dishonesty, resentment or selfishness, each person also has the potential to develop innumerable qualities that contribute to the well-being of others, such as truthfulness, solidarity and rectitude of conduct. Consciously focusing on the positive potential and actions of others and believing in their essential nobility inspires them to become what they can be.
Transcendence: Life is difficult, and it is easy to become discouraged or to be tempted to act in ways that go against cherished ideals. In these moments practicing transcendence, defined as connecting with the eternal values in which a person believes, is essential. Just as a spectator in the stands has a clearer vision of what is happening on the playing field, than the players who are immersed in the action, practicing transcendence involves taking a step back from problems and acquiring a wider perspective. Each person can discover what works best for him or her to achieve transcendence. For some it may be prayer or meditation; for others, reflecting on their vision; and for still others, a walk in nature, talking to a friend with greater maturity, or simply listening to music. The important thing is to understand the value of transcendence and to discover how to achieve it for oneself.
Development of Capabilities: A capability consists of the integration of concepts, skills, attitudes and qualities. Each profession is characterized by technical capabilities, which are the main focus of most university studies. But there are also generic capabilities that are beneficial to all. For ease of remembrance, the authors have divided these generic capabilities in three categories:
1) Capabilities that contribute to personal transformation, such as self-evaluation, learning from reflection on experience, systemic thinking, initiative, perseverance, self-discipline and rectitude of conduct.
2) Capabilities that better relationships, such as imbuing thoughts and actions with love, giving encouragement, participating effectively in group consultation and promoting unity in diversity.
3) Capabilities that contribute to collective transformation, such as contributing to the establishment of justice, transforming dominating relationships, empowering education, elaborating a principle-based, common vision, transforming institutions, and understanding historical perspective.
This approach to moral leadership was first developed and implemented in a three-semester course, training 500 rural schoolteachers as community development agents.
The participants’ response to the conceptual framework and capabilities of moral leadership was overwhelming. In the course evaluation over 99% of the participants indicated that understanding the conceptual framework of moral leadership helped them to be more effective leaders in their communities.
One element they repeatedly mentioned was the strengthening of their spirit of service. One participant commented that formerly when he served, he unconsciously expected compensation, but since taking the course he serves for the sake of service.
Others commented that their study of moral leadership had led them to struggle against their egoistic tendencies, and to think more of the well-being of all, rather than their own personal interests or the interests of their particular organization.
Still others commented that the emphasis on principles had helped them to recover dormant moral values, such as honesty, responsibility, and transparency.
The capability that was most appreciated was that of participating effectively in group consultation. One participant commented that formerly his mental model had been one of domination, and that he had always tried to impose his ideas, without listening or reflecting on the ideas of others. In contrast, he now realizes that every perspective contains some aspect of truth and that it is important to listen, offering his personal ideas as a contribution to the group, and trying to integrate diverse ideas in order to reach a consensus.
The participants also identified relationships between different elements and capabilities of moral leadership; for example, how the construction of a principle-based vision led to perseverance and transcendence when facing challenges.
The program was later replicated in different parts of Bolivia, and similar programs were offered to teachers in Ecuador and Argentina, with 1000 and 300 participants, respectively. In all cases the response was very enthusiastic.
The implementation of the conceptual framework of moral leadership has borne similar results in the field of public health, where it has been shared in a number of countries in Africa and Asia.
Furthermore, the conceptual framework has proved its adaptability for those in different age groups and academic levels. In two projects in disadvantaged neighborhoods in different parts of Bolivia, high school students responded enthusiastically to this approach to moral leadership. An adaptation of the material was also applied in a Youth Program in Kosovo.
One of the most recent uses of the approach has been in online courses in a Master’s Program in Psychology with students from the Bahai Institute for Higher Education in Iran.
Comments from two of these students were:
“I was very interested in moral education but all I knew was Kohlberg’s and Piaget’s works and I did not expect something new. This course was a wonderful experience. It is very useful and I could apply it in my life.”
“It was so useful I believe it should be part of the core curriculum, so that the students of any major could benefit from it.”
Possible reasons for the overwhelmingly positive response to this approach to moral leadership among different age groups, professions, and areas of the world may be:
The emphasis on universal moral principles presented in a non-dogmatic way strikes a chord with the essential nobility of the participants, as does the emphasis on transformation.
The transformation of mental models into a conceptual framework leads to changes in patterns of thinking and action of the participants. This process is facilitated by the organization of the new conceptual framework into six elements and three groups of capabilities, making it relatively easy to remember.
The emphasis on capabilities makes the approach eminently practical to apply in real-life situations.
Now that the Spanish publication of Moral Leadership has gone through four editions, incorporating learning and feedback from these many experiences, a formal English edition is about to be published by Motivational Press, under the title Transformative Leadership: Developing the Hidden Dimension, so that this approach to moral leadership may become more widely known and applied.
Joan B. Hernández
Universidad Nur, Santa Cruz, Bolivia