Reflections on Moral leadership – Part 1: Moral Leaders in Society

The quest for intrinsic morality.

This is the first column in a series of moral leadership.
Columns that follow are: Professional moral conduct, Interpersonal morality and Moral Self-Control.

Moral leaders in society.

Is it enough to leave moral realization to the individual, to existing social structures and systems, or do we need moral leaders in society? Leaders who analyse the forces in society, perceive the pain and injustice, and then set a strategy for a way to improve? And if so, what are the characteristics of those leaders?

For example, what drives the rise of people like the anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone in Sicily in the 1980s, and makes him hold on to his struggle against the mafia, knowing that he is going to die? Could you call those judges Italian moral leaders? It seems that they have employed their intelligence and their talent for professional innovation for something that made their personal life not only not better, but even much worse.

They couldn’t have done it for the sake of glory. Because the general public still seems to be attracted by the romanticism of the mafia itself, given the success of TV series, books and films about the mafia. In no way, this could have been the aim of an anti-Mafia magistrate. The appearance of Al Capone in Italian suit is still more desirable to the public than Giovanni Falcone behind his desk surrounded by files.

Taking a psychological viewpoint

But are not those who deal with the struggle against the mafia, from a psychological point of view, much more interesting? What makes them not comply with their surroundings, but take a different position? And does that independent and possibly lonely position apply to all moral leaders in society?

If you called Falcone a moral leader, in the case of his ‘life or death’ fight against the mafia, what does he mean to society? If you see the images of the fury and sorrow of the Sicilians at the funeral of Giovanni Falcone in 1992, you would say it means a lot.

A huge gap is left behind.

These emotions show what he really meant to the people. When these types of leaders die they leave behind a huge gap with the public and it is for a moment impossible for the people ‘to keep up morale’. That’s the difference with the mourning of a deceased film star or music star. If an admired film star or musical star shines from heaven, far away and not within our reach, a moral leader stands for the way to improving our own destiny. What they stand for or where they work for has a direct impact on our personal lives: our daily lives or our values ​​and beliefs regarding the society that we live in.  So if we lose them during this battle or during this road, the people themselves seem to have temporarily lost their way.

Leaders of Hope

Moral leaders in society also live the way to change to another world or to another social reality. They are the leaders of hope and even stronger, they represent this hope for us.

Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and more recently Nelson Mandela: There have been many others who represented the hope of a better version of reality in society. They all had an intelligent and original strategy to make injustice visible and tangible, but the power of their leadership was also that they lived according to their own values.

What we appeal to in Nelson Mandela is not only his perseverance in his goal despite his imprisonment, but also the dignity with which he faced his opponents. In Mahatma Gandhi, the consequent nonviolence of his method also extends to us as an example, and with Giovanni Falcone, except for its courageous and prudent detection methods, the control with which he proved his restricted living space is prove of his excellence for us. This probably makes it really feasible to us that they do not do it for personal gain, but that certain values ​​live deep in them that are so important that they do not compromise on the environment.

Against direct self interest

This exemplary behaviour seems necessary for us as citizens to recognize someone as a moral leader. Apart from the result of their intelligent and original strategy for the improvement of society, it is their example behaviour itself that they continue to persevere even though the circumstances are difficult, that we recognize as authentic. That distinguishes the moral leader from the successful businessman or politician whom we evaluate mainly on their results and successes. But Giovanni Falcone, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are also admired for their authentic behaviour that goes against their direct self-interest. I suspect that we – as a society – need these leaders very much to feel, at individual level,  connected with the society.

Role of the public

  • “There is nowadays a great need for moral leadership.” This phrase, in this particular way or in another form, can be read on, for example, social media. These comments often follow incidents that challenged people’s faith in the leaders of an organization, in politicians of a country or in the foundations of society.
  • The sense of justice of people who make the above ruling seems to be affected. Or they miss in leaders, including politicians, what is so beautifully called ‘gravitas‘. (“a serious and worthy personality with profound depth.” (source: Wikipedia)).
  • Do we suffer as a society under the experienced superficiality of our leaders? Do we lack integrity in our leaders? (Integrity: The person has an intrinsic reliability, says what he does, and does what he says, has no hidden agenda and does not fake any emotions. “(source: Wikipedia).)
  • Have we ourselves given too much admiration to successful leaders and have we given too little weight to leaders whose behaviour we could take as an example?  (And why?).
  • Did we not take ourselves only financial and innovative success, celebrity and the number of followers as a measure of things? And in this way, could we make a difference as a public?

Representing hope

The anti-mafia judges seemed taken by restoring justice itself, seduced by the vision of a country where one can live freely without fear and terror by a part of its own population. It was possible that the judges developed strong friendships and bonds during their struggle that also gave personal and professional satisfaction, but this could never weigh against the loss of murdered colleagues, the shielded life (la vita blindata) that they had to live and the continuing death threats.

With regard to Giovanni Falcone, I have come to the conclusion that he had understood that if he stopped his fight against the mafia, the Sicilian people would have lost all hope for a liberation from the mafia forever. And if hope had been taken away, life would have become impossible.

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