Leadership

March 31, 2015

More Moral Leadership in Our World

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Written by: Duane Covrig
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Most of us need more exercise.

Most of us want more money.

We all could use a little more love.

But the greatest need and want is for moral leadership.

I have been on a twenty year journey of using the bible and theology, leadership and administration, and sociology and psychology to understand what moral leadership is and how to grow it in myself, those I mentor and the organizations I serve. I have lived through poor moral leadership and great moral leadership. I have practiced good and bad moral leadership myself.

Here are my top five lessons on moral leadership:

1. First, keep clear about the key moral values that build the best moral life. The trinity of moral values are Love, Justice, and Humility (Micah 6:8). These three work together to breed a dynamic tension that keeps moral thinking alive, active, and practically applied in our daily decisions. Moral leaders keep asking: How can I love mercy more today? How should I do justice? How can I maximize both mercy and justice at the same time? Am I walking humbly in this situation to learn what I need to learn to do what I need to do?

Another set of values that I have also been using lately to understand moral leadership are Jonathan Haidt’s six moral framing values–Care, Justice, Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, Sancity/Purity.  While I don’t buy into his evolutionary arguments for how these developed, nor into his wholesale dismissal of the role of reason in understanding and selecting among these values,  I share his view that these are widely recognized in the moral vocabulary of most we serve. I use them to help me frame the moral.

When we mull over these moral values and how they interact, we will have more moral leadership in ourselves and our groups.

2. Roads have ditches and moral leadership is no different. Watch out for ditches. One is the Elder Brother Ditch. See Luke 15. You know you are in that ditch when you become harsh, distant, and exacting. As Henry Drummond reminds us in The Greatest Thing in the WorldLook at the Elder Brother, moral, hard-working, patient, dutiful–let him get all credit for his virtues–look at this man, this baby, sulking outside his own father’s door. “He was angry,” we read, “and would not go in.” Look at the effect upon the father, upon the servants, upon the happiness of the guests. Judge of the effect upon the Prodigal–and how many prodigals are kept out of the Kingdom of God by the unlovely characters of those who profess to be inside? Analyse, as a study in Temper, the thunder-cloud itself as it gathers upon the Elder Brother’s brow. What is it made of? Jealousy, anger, pride, uncharity, cruelty, self-righteousness, touchiness, doggedness, sullenness–these are the ingredients of this dark and loveless soul.”

I know that ditch well. Many a friend and pastor has had to rescue me from an over-exacting conscience that points the bony finger at others and is unduly harsh on even myself. If you feel like you being driven by a slave driver or you are driving others instead of giving and receiving mentoring than you are in the ditch. This ditch is about doing  good but in the wrong spirit, at the wrong time, with the wrong type of effort, for the wrong reasons, with the wrong outcome. The only cure: take a breather with God. Start wallowing in the  wonderful grace of God. We are loved by the Father, despite our condition, and definitely despite our success or failures, our works or our accomplishments. When you stay in that relationship you call out to Abba inviting Him back to all your relationship and into the party of life, love and friendship. This will allow you to seek the moral right but in the right spirit where you realize He PROVIDES.

Some, in running from the harshness of morality, end up not working at all. That isn’t much better. The Prodigal ditch is the other side of the road and equally harmful. It makes life a dead-end too. It is where morality slips into a coma, where ethics and conscience is absent, neglectful, and self-serving. It starts out happy and pleasant and ends up looking the easy route, until it becomes the hardest way. I have seen people and whole organizations get sloppy and ambivalent on moral ideals and practices and end up shipwrecked. I had to recover from a long prodigal ordeal. Stupid choices scarred me for decades. Reading the major and minor prophets keeps a necessary check on this prodigal ditch. The cure is to remember: He COMMANDS.

3. It is NOT good for humans to operate morally alone. I believe God is a teacher that wants to guide us. He does so through others. I believe He accurately describes the uniquely weak feature of humans when He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” This is not merely a gender specific need. It is a universal need. We don’t operate well by ourselves. We need to be rescued from our own thinking at times. Hebrews 2 suggest that humans were purposely made lower than the angels and created to be dependent on each other so that they could, with proper training, submit one to another, just as the Trinity does. God made us in His image–male and female–to be interdependent. In that mode of operation, we have the ability to pull from multiple minds the very thinking we need to be moral. This is a profound mystery!!! When I finally realized I could use my wife’s thinking when mine was not that good, I was liberated from my own ignorance and could take advantage of the good thinking of others around me. Mutual submission is the power of better moral thinking.

4. There are many faces of moral leadership. Because of our built in weakness to see fully by ourselves, we need to see through the eyes of others. This is especially true when we are working together on complex moral issues in large groups. I would encourage all to read the lengthy article I and my two colleagues Mordekai Ongo and Janet Ledesma have written in the Journal of Applied Christian Leadership on four types of moral leadership. We use the metaphors of Prophet, Priest, King and Judge to talk about what each brings to an organization and what each can do to hurt the organization. The prophet brings a thirst for truth and justice so the group can be right with God and others, but can become overbearing and self-righteous and too impatient. The Priest seeks to foster strong relationships and bring reconciliation as he seeks the goal of peace and safety. However, they can become too compromising and lax in the pursuit of peace, and be satisfied with only a few enjoying the peace and safety as the world is grumbling around them. Remember Jeremiah’s critique of Pashur (see Jeremiah 20 and 21).  Priest don’t like prophets but prophets speak for the conscience. Prophets can be a pain, but then so is most truth to those who don’t want to hear it.

Then there are kings, who like to get things done and keep things moving and fortify the group with protection and force. They take taxes and then delegate work. The can keep priests and prophets from becoming stuck on idealism. They can get the economy moving. They are also the main cause of problems in most organizations because the kingly power to control comes quickly to the king types. God is most cautious about kings (see 1 Samuel 8). I am also cautious about them. I find democracy and the democratic republic process, in all its tediousness and slowness, to be preferable to the king approach. I just see it as a necessary evil in our modern world.

Finally, the judge is those individuals that work in organizations to help use synthesize the call for truth and justice, the need for peace and reconciliation and the need to “get ‘er done.”  They help make sure those marginalized get served, those who are wronged, get recompensed and those who have done wrong get the best possible justice mixed with mercy.

Figuring how these four “impulses” of moral leadership can work in an organization is what I am trying to figure out. I hope you try to do that as well.

5. Humans need God. My reading of the book of Daniel is that for the big stuff in life, we need a revelation from above, insight not our own, a word from the Lord, a breeze from the Spirit, to see and then and only then to thoroughly lead well.

What the world needs now is love pure love….in the form of moral leadership. or as one of the prophets I try to listen to put it:

“The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.

But such a character is not the result of accident; it is not due to special favors or endowments of Providence. A noble character is the result of self-discipline, of the subjection of the lower to the higher nature—the surrender of self for the service of love to God and man.” White, Education, p. 57

God help us develop such moral leadership!!!!!



About the Author

Duane Covrig

I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.






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  1. […] strong prophetic moral leadership that showed the irritation of prophets.   See the call for more moral leadership in the world and the need to see the moral diversity needed for that moral […]



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