In the darkest of alleys, in morbid times, let there be light: Moral leadership shall prevail.

By: Aparajita Datta and Raghav Chawla,

Undergraduate Engineering Students

University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, India

A blot of ink falls on the paper and soils it. Our present, too, similarly lies smeared with such colors of our history, the colors that have conventionally defined leadership. Religious leaders have come and gone, stating and reinstating decrees; the tyranny of military leaders still resurfaces as scathing wounds; political and economic leadership has only leached the society off its deserved development in a dizzyingly unrelenting manner. Now, it is time we established a new shade.

The tragedy of our times lies in perceiving a complex and intricate concept like leadership with extremely tapered and constricted perspectives. Leaders are often misconstrued to be those who exercise power over others, those who assume undue and unwarranted authority, and those who somehow walk ahead, and in doing so, are then adjudged better than the rest. Conventionally, many are considered leaders for the economic or political power they have amassed; regardless of their personal accomplishments, their character and conduct. Leaders are usually viewed as a force to reckon with, but what fails to be appreciated is that you cannot lead by instilling fear. Ironically, leaders seem to steal the liberty of the very people they lead towards liberty; they divide into groups the very societies they lead towards brotherhood; they corrupt the very minds they lead towards freedom. Mark Twain once said, “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.”

In 1978, James McGregor Burns wrote about the dearth of leadership, "One of the most universal cravings is a hunger for compelling and creative leadership." The delusion of leadership with power has led to the conception of an imagery that is conniving, elitist and narrow. 

There is just about enough of technology, resources, potential and policies for the world to sustain, even without the guidance of a leader for that matter; but without the indispensable moral fiber that guides this sustenance, the essence of these words is annihilated. We witness a gross pattern of injustice with respect to everything; poverty, wars, diseases, death, crime, exploitation, corruption, discrimination, denial of rights. Essentially, the human race is tagged as ‘mankind’, but the essence of the word ‘kind’ seems to have been misplaced somewhere. In the exasperating rat race we all find ourselves drawn into and battling every day, what lies forgotten is that this very ‘kind’ nature is the only key to winning the race. Amusingly, the world in which we live tends to often reward those who cooperate or even compromise with immorality, rather than those who oppose it. This is why true moral leadership is as essential to society as it is rare. 

The dictionary defines a leader as ‘the person who leads a group, or organization’ and morality as ‘principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong’. Simply strung together, moral leadership can be defined as what helps individuals to see the real conflict between competing ideals, the inconsistencies between espoused values and conduct. Therefore, rather than aspiring to be followed, moral leaders aim to serve, relentlessly and selflessly, not just a particular class, or religious group or citizens of one country but the world at large. Moral leadership is not about holding a certain position or title; it is about being motivated by the quest of a higher purpose. Moral leaders act with righteousness and rectitude through which they build consensus, steer through diversity and ascertain unity.

Defining moral leadership necessitates introspection, and however skewed the philosophy of moral leadership may seem, its fundamental ethos remains in upholding the dignity and liberty of man universally. Enlightened thinkers and visionaries around the world are concerned about the denigrated status of morals and ethics in the society. Values are the foundation of moral leadership.

True leadership is born out of morality. A moral leader is one who does not in fact have any subordinates, because essentially no human is lesser than the other and a moral leader will remember this. A moral leader can direct the attenuated attention of people towards the moral status of life in a contemporary context and initiate catalyzed reflection in people to enable them to think futuristically with the right outlook. This emergence of an inner holistic mindset will naturally mirror in the outer world to cause the desired changes to occur naturally, to reinstate the lost richness of life.

Today, leading morally means one can no longer simply rely on the answers of the past. Our globalizing planet, advancing technologies and environmental, political & religious crises – they all scream for new solutions. Today’s leaders must be capable of absorbing and understanding their environment, re-envisioning it in a creative, meaningful way and arising to give expression to this reality while inspiring others to do the same. This is challenging; especially in the face of a growing pessimism about the state of our societies and loss of popular confidence in leaders to turn the ship around. But like anything else, moral leadership is also a matter of sustained practice. It begins with knowing one’s values and making sure one’s personal action are guided by these values.

At present the clash between the old and the new, the past and the present is particularly fraught. The present-day crisis is the conflict between expediency and righteousness, and therefore we need a large number of individuals who can emerge as leaders and can identify a pattern of problem-solving within the traditional system, vigorous enough to generate and sustain an indigenous process of modernization, which does not need readymade external solutions, and is in accord with indigenous needs and attitudes, allowing room for development by building on existing templates of generations of significant hard work and toiling that has brought us to a juncture we now stand at, ready to take flight towards wider horizons.

Hinging on these philosophies, it is believed that spreading awareness about an adversity is the foremost solution to it. At a time when the world imperatively needs its people to think wisely about every bit of energy they use and every molecule of carbon they release into the environment, it is imperative to first enable the people to think wisely and arrive at an informed decision. Therefore great minds around the world have suggested the addition of a fourth pillar, 'the pillar of spirituality', to the idea of sustainability. It is this pillar of value-based spirituality that compels people to think about the economic, social and environmental effects of their actions. The world thus, does not have to focus on anything else but moral development because that would in turn promote holistic growth.

Being a moral leader begins at a very elementary level, often reflected in the simplest of actions. Successful development of a moral compass defined by intellectual spirituality forms the contours of aspirations and moral conduct that can create responsible and aware citizens of the planet who would be the harbingers of the much desired change.

It is not easy to develop a new and reformed forefront of leadership in this day and age. Is realizing and implementing moral leadership on large scale only a pipedream? The difficulties are enormous. The sheer momentum and extent of so many individuals acting immorally, even if in small ways, is daunting. Can the challenges be met and overcome?

The tides need to be reversed by leaders who would revive values and virtues and restore purpose and meaning with thoughtful indulgence, commitment and willingness. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Simple and seemingly insignificant measures can magnify into historic and defining edicts. If we want to modify the world we live in, we have to modify ourselves first. If we want to morally empower the world then we have to first revive our own values. 

We have to first conquer our own shortcomings, truly and intrinsically imbibe moral values in our lives and be the architects of our own futures to then automatically lead the society by example. We would thus emancipate the spirit that we embody and metamorphose from our cocoons. Each of us is a bearer of a light that can direct us towards liberating ourselves from the shackles that have chained us for as long as we can remember.  Each individual is a potential moral leader, what remains is the mere awakening of the latent light that is carried within.

In the search for a guiding principle for building character and directing distributed moral leadership in today’s fractionated world, leaders will do well to follow Aristotle’s maxim: always act towards the right person, at the right time, in the right place, in the right amount, and in the right way. 

The ink has dried. A permanent and enduring mark is what is left; the silhouette emerges stronger than ever, lighting up to a new shade, redefining the identity of the paper. Moral leadership has indeed arrived. 

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