Leading Comments

Leading Comments / September 2001


I am grateful for the more than three hundred subscribers to Leadership Opportunity Your support means that we can move together closer to a way of viewing and being in the world that is integrating, generative and supports our evolving integrity. Also, I wish to express my gratitude to the many kindnesses, suggestions and offers of support Leadership Opportunity has received.

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If you have been reading these e-journals over time, perhaps you have picked up the theme being iterated: leadership is both an individual and collective phenomenon. There is a growing literature dancing around this theme. Here is another–with a twist.

Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr., “We don’t Need Another Hero,” Harvard Business Review, September 2001, pp, 121-126.

This Harvard professor notes that the individuals we celebrate as great moral leaders represent the gold standard of ethical behavior. However, the studies of this business ethicist are coming up with a different picture.

“…over the course of my career as a specialist in business ethics, I have observed that the most effective moral leaders in the corporate world often sever the connection between morality and public heroism. These men and women aren’t high-profile champions of right over wrong and don’t want to be…They move patiently, carefully, and incrementally. They right–or prevent–moral wrongs in the workplace inconspicuously and usually without casualties. I have come to call these people quiet leaders because their modesty and restraint are in large measure responsible for their extraordinary achievements.”

He offers four basic rules that quiet moral leaders follow:

  1. Put things off until tomorrow. Buy time when things are not in order to allow calm to found. This involves quick fixes and strategic stalling.
  2. Pick your battles. Use your political capital carefully. It is easy to dissipate. Plan ahead on how much you are willing to expend.
  3. Bend the rules, don’t break them. Following the rules is a technique for putting things off, but be careful. This may also be a moral cop-out. So, when you bend the rules, make sure you are willing to own up to deeper responsibilities. These may not be ideal ways for dealing with situations, but sometimes situations offer little alternative.
  4. Find a compromise. The idea of compromise has bad press in our culture. Failure to compromise may mean that you are treating moral principles as black-and-white. Recognizing the value of crafting responsible and workable compromises defines how quiet leaders work.

These quiet leaders are characterized as recognizing that they often have mixed motives. Things aren’t simple and neat. And they are very realistic. “Taken together, the traits of mixed motives and hard-boiled realism describe the working assumptions of quiet moral leaders. A moral compass points these individuals in the right direction, but the guidelines for quiet leadership help them get to their destinations–in one piece.”

Interestingly, these quiet moral leaders are most often found in the middle of organizations.

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Thanks for taking the time to consider this e-publication in a world of data overload. For leaders, collaborators, consultants, academics and coaches alike; I welcome you to some ideas and a dialogue that may benefit us all. I hope you will contact me soon with your idea, reference or article. Suggestions on improvement are welcome.
Russ Volckmann, PhD, Coaching Leaders in Business and Life
Email: russ@integraleadershipreview.com
Tel: 831.333-9200, FAX: 831.656-0110
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