“In my country we go to prison first and then become President.” (Nelson Mandela)


“What does Moral Leadership mean to you?”


“Moral Leadership” – What do these two important words mean to me? What do they mean to you?

Before I truly started deeply thinking about it, it seemed to be quite simple: “It’s…oh, you know what; it’s…easy, clear and obvious. What a question?!”

But what do they essentially mean? Honestly, I have no clue. By now, my spontaneous response would be: “A big mystery.” What does Moral Leadership need, and what does it carry with itself? Who actually is a moral leader and how did he or she become so (education, good luck, God)? “Are good leaders moral leaders?” (Olar Olsen), can I do a great career in it and finally: How to find out?

It was Paul R. Lawrence who exclaimed in his book ‘Driven to Lead’: "Humans will probably always need the help of especially gifted moral leaders in order to extend the bonds of caring and trust beyond the easy range of the family and the face-to-face community. Such bonds have become essential to the future of humanity.”           In the following, I’d like to invite you on my journey to a personal answer to this elementary question: What’s Moral Leadership?  - Doubtless, a highly important task.

“There are no morals in politics”, Vladimir Lenin must have known what he said; hence he’s been head of the Russian government for several years. “Morality” – “Leadership”… a bit paradox, isn’t it? Listening to recent electoral discussions it seems as if everybody’s looking for it, all politicians are promising it but nobody believes it still exists. However that’s not what I’m looking for at all! “I am not interested in power for power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)


So maybe it’s best to start by the analysis of its two components for understanding the consumption:

What’s “moral”? – The adjective ‘moral’ ,or noun ‘morality’ from Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior", by definition means to be “pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong” or to say it with Friedrich Nietzsche’s words, “morality is the herd- instinct in the individual.”

What’s “leadership”? - Leadership is "a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task" (Robert J. House, "A path-goal theory of leader effectiveness"). Associated characteristics are power, strength, authority, responsibility and success.

All in all, “moral leadership” must be the operation of making others doing more good and less bad things.

That’s it? Sure? Well, I’m still not convinced by this first general explanation. ..


Definitely, great people like Jesus, Mohammad, Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin- Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, Confucius, Aristotle and so on are, without any doubt, momentous moral leaders who have all in common to have lived, declared, spread and finally established some kind of moral change in our societies. Some ideals were more or less successful, some are still developing and some will need much more time to be conceived, internalized and finally realized.

Consequently being moral leader meant to them to hardly defend their moral ambition against others, to avouch for their moral belief, to fight selflessly against social iniquitousness and all too often to be unjustly punished for their efforts.

There is no denying ‘moral leadership’ itself doesn’t imply to have lots of authority, political power, easy-going, to implement objectives with legal or military compulsion or being celebrated or rewarded with a Nobel prize from the very first moment. It is neither depending on decade, age, gender, origin, skin color, position, career, money, education nor on a special social background. In fact, it is not even about the total of achievements.

But if that’s true, how did they do then? How to make others understand they did wrong? How to make people follow? The answer might be simply given by Albert Schweitzer saying that "example is not the main thing in influencing others; it is the only thing." They all did by going ahead, by explaining their reasons to do so without forcing anybody, by letting the rest of the world apprehend and decide to follow voluntarily, and on their own, making them lead themselves.


As a result, really everybody, everywhere in the whole world and every single moment can become a moral leader! It’s not even necessary to be a courageous, strong, self-confident and saintly personality, because “moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts and brave by doing brave acts.” (Aristotle)

It’s not only the famous national hero, but also usual people like Rosa Louise Parks, who refused to get up when a white claimed her seat in a bus, it could be a passenger not ignoring a group of teenagers beating up a little boy, or an infant standing up for somebody else and saying: “That’s not right.” It’s about making the world know that you’re not looking the other direction when children are being killed in war, people being discriminated against and human rights being ignored just because it’s overseas and doesn’t affect you considerably. Somehow it’s more than enough to be open-minded, to listen to other moral leaders and to have a look at yourself instead of deploring other’s behavior first and to not be sure things are just because they’re habitude.

Some time ago I would have asked myself reading the previous lines: What would that change? Isn’t it a single water drop on a hot stone? Nowadays I am assured that „we are like chameleons; we take our hue and the color of our moral character from those who are around us (John Locke)." So don’t matter if you’re a mother, father, teacher, child or president of the United States:

Follow by leading by going ahead. -And that’s what moral leadership is about.

Thank you very much for reading my essay,

Clarissa Jacqueline Arabella Luttmann, 17 years old, high-school graduate, Albertus-Magnus-Gymnasium Friesoythe, Germany

 “The three hardest tasks in the world are neither physical feats nor intellectual achievements, but moral acts: to return love for hate, to include the excluded and to say, “I was wrong”. (Sydney J. Harris)

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Comment by Al LeBlanc on December 16, 2013 at 9:22am

Clarissa:  Excellent scholarly dissertation on "moral leadership, especially for a "17 year old high-school graduate"; you are wise well beyond your years ! One of my major points on moral leadership is first and foremost a person needs a "conscience" to know "good from bad" and courage to act for the ultimate good.  Thanks for creating and sharing ! Merry Christmas in Germany ! (Spent a most memorable White Chrismas in Oberammegau).     Al

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