The majority of discussions about Servant Leadership center around listening, empathy, emotional intelligence, character, leading with moral authority, and putting other people first in a leader’s practices.

Equally important is the characteristic of courage — courage to stand as a rampart against unethical behaviors. Resisting pressures of high profits at the expense of employee needs and growth requires immense courage and leadership.

At times, leaders must choose between doing the right thing for employees over increasing the bottom line.

Servant Leadership

As Mark Twain tells us, there are two types of courage: Physical and Moral. As he points out, courage is most often thought to be physical. Rarely do we think of the moral aspect of courage. As servant leaders, we must consider both. To more fully understand this essential quality of leadership, leaders must know the difference between morals, ethics, and honor. Traditionally, these traits have different and distinct meanings:

Morals – a set of standards or rules that govern one’s behavior; a set of virtues based on the natural law; cultural distinctions between right and wrong

Ethics – the behavior one exhibits based on his/her virtues or morals

Honor – maintaining a proper sense of right and wrong based on moral standards of conduct. As stated by Revolutionary War Hero Capt. John Paul Jones: “I will lay down my life for my country, but I will not trifle with my honor.”

Servant Leaders are expected to be persons of honor with high standards of morals and ethical behaviors, whose integrity is beyond reproach at all times, even when no one is looking or watching.

Physical Courage

Until recently, courage meant physical courage only, with little consideration for the moral or ethical aspects of the behavior. Saving a person’s life meant placing oneself in danger and the possibility of sacrificing one’s life to save another person. In the military, such action is sometimes recognized with the Medal of Honor for valor above and beyond the call of ordinary duty.

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Leadership physical courage can be exhibited in several other ways:

  • Training an employee in the proper procedures of completing a task or responsibility.
  • Educating employees on a proposed change or policy.
  • Mentoring and counseling when employee behaviors indicate a need for one or the other.
  • Conflict resolution, especially during heated moments of aggression by employees.
  • Public speaking on a wide variety of subject matter relative to one’s knowledge and expertise.

Moral Courage

A Servant Leader’s honor depends on their exhibiting high standards of moral courage. Examples include some of the following behaviors:

  • Doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do, especially when under pressure to look the other way or to lower standards of conduct with the idea of motivating future positive behaviors.
  • Standing up for the leader’s beliefs in defense of one’s honor.
  • Making honest decisions based on organizational ethical standards with unwavering principles.
  • Admitting mistakes, even in the most embarrassing of situations.
  • Confronting unethical behaviors when discovered and taking responsible corrective action that may even require terminating an employee.
  • Setting the standard in performance according to organizational morals and ethics.

Leadership Authenticity

Servant Leadership authenticity can only be maintained and emulated by adhering to the highest possible standards of moral and physical courage.

Where do you stand in your leadership courage? Do you stand as a rampart against unethical and immoral behaviors by employees? Are you an authentic Servant Leader?

What is Servant Leadership?

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David McCuistion
David is a retired Naval Officer with extensive leadership and management experience including Officer-in-Charge of a major communication facility, in secondary education teaching leadership, and over five years public speaking on Servant Leadership and organizational development topics.