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Moral Intelligence: Enhancing Business Performance and Leadership Success

 
Values-based decisions for individuals and organizations.
7/18/2005

First there was emotional intelligence, then came spiritual intelligence, and now we have moral intelligence. Lennick and Kiel, both management consultants, define moral intelligence as "the ability to differentiate right from wrong as defined by universal principles." Crediting the groundbreaking work of Daniel Goleman and his colleagues for incorporating the concepts of emotional intelligence into the twenty-first century workplace, they carefully explain the distinction between moral and emotional intelligence. While the two are closely related and emotional intelligence is involved in situations requiring moral decision making, the key difference is that moral intelligence is, by definition, values-based.

When they embarked on this project, Lennick and Kiel found only limited research focusing on moral leadership despite a review of academic literature in the fields of philosophy, social biology, developmental psychology, cultural anthropology, and the neurosciences. They went on to conduct in-depth interviews with more than thirty CEOs and roughly fifty other senior executives to understand how leaders used their moral intelligence to achieve personal and business goals. Part One defines moral intelligence and makes the case that behaving morally is not only the right way to live but is also good for business. The authors explore how moral skills are developed in human beings and offer perspectives from psychology and neuroscience to give a basic foundation for understanding how moral leaders are created.

Part Two focuses on the key elements that encompass moral intelligence: integrity, responsibility, compassion, and forgiveness. Integrity means acting consistently with principles, values, and beliefs. In explaining this principle, the authors give some obvious and somewhat simplistic examples of situations in which being dishonest may seem the easy way out of a difficult situation (as in exaggerating earnings when faced with an overbearing and demanding CEO, for example). In the end, telling the truth is usually the best alternative. The authors acknowledge that all situations are not that straightforward and that in some cases, business leaders cannot be completely forthcoming with their staff. Leaders in situations involving downsizings, initial public offerings, and mergers and acquisitions may realize that it would be better for employees to know that there are planned layoffs yet may not feel at liberty to divulge the information.

Lennick and Kiel define responsibility as a willingness to accept accountability for the consequences of actions and choices and admit mistakes and failures. Compassion and forgiveness mean caring about others. Leaders who are compassionate actively support the choices and goals of their staff. The authors point out that being compassionate does not mean denying bad behavior.

While the first two sections of the book apply the ideas of moral competence to individuals, the final section discusses it from an organizational perspective. This section suggests ways that organizations can institutionalize the principles of moral intelligence, exploring what it means to be an organization with integrity, and create policies that are morally intelligent.