Thoughts on Moral Courage

There has been much talk recently, particularly in relation to the modern day Parliamentarian, about courage in relation to leadership. Comparisons, fair or otherwise, are often drawn between now and other moments in history of great challenges and the lack of courage now being displayed.

I recently spoke at a conference in Ethiopia on the subject of ‘Ethical Leadership’.


I concluded with these thoughts on moral courage, which I thought, with current events in mind, I would share:

You might be uncomfortable at times as an ethical leader – but no one has ever said leadership is easy. However, situations demanding strong ethical behaviour can teach us to trust ourselves and our instincts. If you calm your anxiety and look logically at the situation facing you, your instincts will often guide you in the right direction – what I prefer to call that most elusive of leadership qualities – ‘grace under pressure’ (Ernest Hemingway)

Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them (Orison Swett Marden 1850-1924).

This is moral courage.

Ethical leading, and living, takes moral courage and conviction. It means doing the right thing, even when it isn’t popular or easy.

Moral courage is defined as ‘the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss’. I would like to paraphrase Aristole here, ‘In feelings of fear and confidence the mean is courage. While the person who is excessively confident is rash; the one who is excessively afraid and deficient in confidence is cowardly, the one who is balanced in the middle demonstrates bravery and courage’.

Finishing with another quote Winston Churchill perhaps best sums up this discussion on courage:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.”


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