Moral Intelligence- the remarkable trait for leaders

moral intelligence

As a child during one of the summer holidays in our ancestral village, I remember a kid in the neighbourhood was being reprimanded by others for stealing. His mother pleaded innocence and covered up for him. I have no recollection of who that child grew up to be but I remember my father’s words after that incident. He had said, ‘a mother makes a thief.’ Sounded odd at that time but I realised it truly when years later after that incident, I had to talk to my less-than-5 year old to return a candy he had picked up slyly in a store. Recently, I was reminded again of the statement ‘a mother makes a thief’ when I had to take care of the teenager’s act of watching Netflix on her laptop during online school hours. Mothers have a knack of understanding a child’s behaviour and by virtue can either confront or cover up if there is wrongdoing. Mothers become the first moral intelligence police for the child. 

Right and wrong taught as values remain the compass for decisions that define moral intelligence. Moral intelligence was first developed as a concept in 2005 by Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel, Ph.D. They defined moral intelligence as “the mental capacity to determine how universal human principles should be applied to our values, goals, and actions” Michele Borba, Ed.D., in her book Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing defined seven essential virtues of moral intelligence as empathy, conscience, self-control, respect, kindness, tolerance, and fairness.

Moral Intelligence is a lesser known leadership trait but is an essential tool for a leader, actually for every person in the room, not just the leader. Watching Netflix during an online school time is not a crime, so are what seems as small trespasses of values in the course of business. Sometimes these small moves climax into a big one and backfire and sometimes a small harmless move comes under the radar of law and order.  It doesn’t matter whether an unethical practice comes under the law scanner or not, it definitely deviates the business and its processes from the path of competency. 

If you would wonder, consider some of these past news headlines:

Rajat Gupta’s Lust for Zeros

Videocon loan case: Srikrishna panel indicts Chanda Kochhar; what we know so far

Rajat Gupta. Chanda Kochhar. Big names. Bigger body of work. Yet, tarnished by what seems like deviation in moral intelligence. Some stories come out in the public domain. Some don’t. Yet, from time to time, leaders miss a step or two in moral intelligence. It leaves a hole not just in their lives but also in the company’s trust and value systems. Sometimes these small, unharmful yet unethical steps might look natural and acceptable in the value system. Like we have seen in the case of Harshad Mehta scam story, where many others were also following similar practices. Moral Intelligence is not rocket science but it is helpful to understand how it is defined by researchers.

Lennick and Kiel say that the construct of moral intelligence consists of integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion:

  • Integrity: integrity are a) acting consistently with principles, values, and beliefs, b) telling the truth, c) standing up for what is right, and d) keeping promise
  • Responsibility: Responsibility’s three competencies are a) taking personal responsibility, b) admitting mistakes and failures, and c) embracing responsibility for serving others (Clarken, 2009).
  • Forgiveness: Forgiveness involves a) letting go of one’s own mistakes and b) letting go of others’ mistakes (Clarken, 2009). 
  • Compassion: compassion is actively caring about others (Clarken, 2009). 

Moral intelligence is separate from emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is about understanding and controlling one’s feelings and reactions. I have written about Emotional Intelligence in this article here. In today’s Habits for Thinking, we discuss how carrying the knowledge of moral intelligence impacts leadership style. 

The advantages of building Moral Intelligence: 

1. The compass of decision making

Moral intelligence though spoken less about as a leadership trait, is central to leadership. The beauty of this intelligence is that it can be acquired as a skill by practice. But this is a compass that needs to be the true north. 

2. The roadmap for the purpose:

Bringing the purpose, individual or a business purpose, depends on the moral roadmap. Moral intelligence paves the roadmap for continuing on the mission of purpose. It is the guide for why we do things and how we do things. 

3.The competitive edge: 

How many times have you been told that your team has earned the business because your team’s integrity stood over other competitors? We may be technologically enabled but business relations are based on human relations. The moral intelligence of an effective leader makes way for everyone in the business. The moral intelligence of the leader defines the right processes and functionality at the core of the business.

4. The tool for ethical design: 

We are governed by privacy policies. That is the law. But there is no law to suggest that as a brand when or how many times can you call the customer? In an another example, leaders that are employing Artificial intelligence have to make several ethical decisions. The more we are driven by technology, more we will have to be morally conscious and intelligent to drive technology. 

5. The responsible influencer: 

I sometimes wonder, if Elon Musk would not have tweeted about Gamestop, would less number of  redditors have made losses? I have no scientific way to prove it but there is a possibility that Elon Musk’s tweet would have influenced some more retail investors to jump in the Gamestop saga resulting in both gains and losses for individuals. Moral intelligence is not just for people with large following on social media platforms, it is with anybody who has influence over people around him. 

Moral Intelligence is not just a responsibility towards a team or a business. It is also a responsibility towards the community, our work communities, our social communities and the members of that community. This Saturday morning marks sixty five nights for Partho Dasgupta* (BARC scam case), under judicial custody. At some point, maybe in months or in years, the judiciary will define whether Patho Dasgupta had a moral intelligence lapse in his career or not. Events around us teach us lessons and make us reflect. As a member of the community, one could reflect on their own moral intelligence to see if they have been able to forgive and yet be compassionate enough to offer help. 

When a community comes together morally, it forgives and extends help. The compass for Moral Intelligence towards a community could be the one like this popular social kindness quote, –

We are all just walking each other home.”

Business leaders need to become mothers as they practice moral intelligence. They must remember, a mother teaches her child by not just preaching but by practicing.

Mothers are best teachers of Moral Intelligence!

*The author is an ex colleague of Partho Dasgupta. She has worked with him from 2005-2009.

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