Practical Leadership

Moral Courage

Most of us will never lead troops in combat or run into a burning building to save someone, so physical courage is not something that will ordinarily be required of us. Moral courage, however, is required of everyone daily. Daily decisions about how to do our jobs and live our lives form us into the kind of person that we are. Individual decisions certainly have more or less weight in importance, but nonetheless they contribute to our character. Do we do the inspection or merely sign off on the form? Perform the inventory or just guess at how much is there? Do we take time to do a proper performance review for our employees, or do we just have coffee and “call it even”?

Poor decisions can aggregate into poor performance. Not doing an inspection of a piece of equipment may mean that we miss a safety issue that could be dangerous.  Failing to count the number of widgets on the shelf could lead to lost sales, or worse, someone being falsely accused of theft. A leader who fails to do proper employee feedback could inadvertently encourage bad behavior by subordinates.

Moral courage is more than just following company policy; it’s also having the courage to act in a situation where there’s injustice. In 2013 Michael Garcia, a waiter at a Houston restaurant, refused to serve a customer who he felt was being disrespectful to a special needs child at another table. It was a risk because his boss could’ve fired him, but Mr. Garcia believed he was standing up for a person who was unable to stand up for himself. The customers left the restaurant, and the special needs child’s family wasn’t even aware of the exchange. Mr. Garcia became a hero to that family and to the families of special needs kids around the country. In the process, the restaurant got some free publicity, and the city of Houston got an example of how to concretely demonstrate respect.

Another employee didn’t get the same response as Mr. Garcia, demonstrating why it sometimes takes courage to act. Twyla DeVito of Shelby, Ohio, watched a regular patron and board member at the American Legion post where she worked get into a car appearing to her to be drunk, and so she called the police.  She was subsequently fired by the Post Commander for her actions. DeVito defended her actions by saying, “If he had gotten in a wreck that would have been on me, because I was on my shift…I chose to possibly save a life.” I’m certainly not going to second guess either her decision or her boss’, but the entire situation serves to illustrate that sometimes there are no “good” decisions; there are only “least worst” decisions. Ms. DeVito had the moral courage to follow her convictions and do what she thought was right.

Practicing moral courage daily might not make a person a hero, but will work wonders for a leader who wants to encourage character in their subordinates.

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