Moral Leadership: Definition and Demonstration

Subject: Philosophy
Pages: 7
Words: 1921
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: PhD


Traditionally, the topic of leadership ethics was narrowly covered and thus it only received the attention of theorists who wrote texts on ethical leadership. However, the contemporary leadership is covered in moving pictures, films, acted by various artists. Proponents of films as an important source of information regarding ethical leadership have argued that they offer better details of leadership than written texts. Films provide visual evidence regarding the importance of humans in an organizational setting. In written texts, especially those authored before the evolution of movies, the importance of human capital is overlooked. The lessons passed through movies reach more audiences than those done through written texts.

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The sense of humor created by the actors attracts the attention of the audiences thus ensuring that they capture all the themes. This paper shall explore the topic of moral leadership as documented in the available literature. The paper shall also analyze the leadership styles exercised by Martin Luther King to illustrate the concepts of moral leadership. The paper shall describe the strengths movies have over the traditional written texts in illustrating the concepts of moral leadership.

What are the issues and why is this moral agent noteworthy?

Moral leadership denotes a type of leadership that prioritizes serving the people involved. In this kind of leadership, the leader shelves his/her interest in favor of the organization’s interests. Moral leaders skillfully manage themselves and encourage subordinates to emulate them. Such leaders are ambitious and goal-oriented, and they cultivate an organizational culture that fully supports the achievement of the set goals while at the same time complying with the ethical provisions. However, there exist challenges in accomplishing this kind of leadership against the backdrop of the changing nature of businesses today. Moreover, conflicts of interest may prevent a leader from settling for the most appropriate solution based on the available facts.

Are there advantages to utilizing an alternative text to illustrate and highlight moral leadership?

Myriad advantages are accruing from using films to demonstrate moral leadership as opposed to the utilization of the traditional texts. Firstly, films illustrate the importance of the workforce through active involvement of each character performing in the movie. In written texts, the emphasis is on the leader while the role of the subordinates is overlooked.

Secondly, combining films with written texts could be a sure way of ensuring that the target audiences grasp every aspect of moral leadership. In most cases, written texts give a summary of the actors’ bibliography, and reading it may increase the understanding of the movie. Though skeptics of the written texts cite the brevity of information contained in the text, the inclusion of a synopsis of the movie would be a sure way of enhancing the readers’ understanding.

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How do audio-video or printed images compare and contrast with traditional printed texts?

The audio-video presentation of moral leadership differs significantly from the traditional written text in that the modern video contains moving images that illustrate the leadership traits. It combines both moving images and audio narratives to pass the message to the desired audience.

Some scholars have argued that movies communicate certain aspects that cannot be adequately covered in written texts. Aristotle (2013) states that some aspects of organizational realities such as the strict deadlines leaders have to meet cannot be well illustrated in written texts. However, in movies, such aspects are covered comprehensively, as the process of decision-making is demonstrated using moving images.

Another notable difference is the details the two forms of presentations give. Written texts are more detailed compared to movies that only cover the major themes. Besides, movies are usually produced for commercial purposes and must have lots of humor to attract customers. Written texts lack such humor and only pass the information without exaggerations.

Lebacqz (1986) states that symbols are an important aspect of moral leadership since they guide the leaders in making decisions. In films, symbols are shown clearly. Therefore, the viewer can comprehend the importance of such symbols in moral leadership. In written texts, the importance of symbols may not be noticed even if included in the texts.

Films are mainly used to entertain the audiences as opposed to passing knowledge to the viewers. Most artists include fictional imagery to make the movie entertaining. Therefore, films cannot be used primarily to pass knowledge regarding moral leadership to the viewers. In other words, the image, not the substance, turns into the message hence the importance of the visual form of art in communicating the desired message. Most movies are exaggerated to attract the attention of the viewer and thus some scholars argue that they cannot be used for educational purposes.

Leaders are viewed as role models in an organizational setting, and thus they have to be creative enough to offer the best solutions for the troubling situations. Leaders must remain moral and encourage their colleagues and subordinates to embrace the principle of morality when making major decisions that are likely to affect the firm. Research indicates that morality is a key aspect of leadership since it affects the decision-making process of a firm. Moral reasoning goes beyond the application of the universal rules to provide solutions to problems that present in the course of conducting the business of the firm.

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Indicate ‘what’ the work of imagination or fiction says morally, but also ‘how’ the moral content of the artworks. How do these works of moral imagination compare with books like Aristotle’s ‘Ethics’ or other texts in the class?

Burger (2009) states that a leader’s morality primarily influences their decisions while solving certain ethical problems. It also influences the relationship between the leader, the colleagues, and the subordinates. Moreover, it defines the leader’s commitment to the organization’s goals hence imaginative leaders always achieve the firm’s short-term and long-term goals. Imagination helps leaders to assess a problem and compare different courses of actions as well as the outcomes of each action. Through a close examination of the alternative courses of actions, the leader chooses the right decision.

Bennis and Goldsmith (2003) state that the concept of moral imagination involves the utilization of knowledge and ethical theories such as utilitarianism, virtual, deontological, and the Natural Law to offer solutions to problems. However, the theories only guide the decision-making process after a creative analysis of the possible courses of actions.

However, Franklin (1990) contradicts this view stating that moral imagination involves more than just the application of the ethical theories in solving problems. According to him, the concept of corporate philanthropy is equally important as does the ethical theories. He asserts that moral leadership is guided by the leader’s perception of what is right. He emphasizes that moral imagination is highly dependent on the leader’s ability to offer creative solutions to problems that present in the course of accomplishing business operations.

Restricting problem solving to the theoretical knowledge can adversely affect the leaders’ ability to make the right decisions when faced with different situations. Ethics evolves with time hence moral leaders must remain flexible to keep up with the rapid changes (Press, 2012). Therefore, in conclusion, creativity in problem-solving is what characterizes moral imagination.

All the literature reviewed in this paper concedes that moral imagination involves the creative use of ethical knowledge to provide solutions to problems. Creativity is thus the key to the moral imagination. However, the ethical theories are important since they form the platform on which moral leadership is based.

Selma-movie summary

This movie revolves around the life of a black human rights activist, Martin Luther King, who actively engages the US government in battles to fight injustices directed at the blacks. Ava DuVernayIn, who acts as Martin Luther King, directs the movie. Throughout the movie, King is seen as the leader of the blacks, and he exercises the moral virtue to persuade the government to treat the entire citizens equally. The black people are denied certain basic rights afforded to them by the constitution. Though the activist is faced with a myriad of challenges, he utilizes all the powers at his disposal to emerge a winner.

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Advantages of the movie over the written texts

Watching the movie gives a clearer picture of the nature of discrimination the black people faced than simply reading the reviews or Dr. King’s speeches. The emotions of the activist are well depicted in the movie through variations in the voice during the discussions between him and the American political leaders. The moral trait of the leader is well illustrated in the movie from the decisions that he makes as the head of the blacks. Additionally, the combination of the moving images and narratives facilitates the understanding of the situation by the viewer. Reading reviews and the speeches of the leader cannot paint a clear picture of the situation as watching the movie.

Watching a movie can have a captivating effect on the viewer, as it tends to evoke emotions. Without necessarily underestimating the value of written texts about Dr. Martin Luther King, watching this movie connects with the viewer from a human perspective as Dr. King is seen as having a life, facing similar challenges to contemporary leaders and his challenge tackling skills are clearly on display. In addition to connecting with the viewer, watching ‘Selma’ leaves a vivid memory that is hard to get away from as opposed to reading a detailed written account of the same.

While taking nothing away from written accounts of Dr. King’s speech, watching him delivering it leaves a lasting impression on the viewer not least from the dramatization that can only be noted by its absence in written texts. The movie depicts the activist as a hero and a moral leader who is a strong Christianity believer.

The other strength that the movie has over the written texts is that it covers both the moments of strength and the moments of weakness and doubts. A case in point is the part where the king is observed calling his favorite gospel singer at night. His action to consult the gospel singer is premised on the view that making such consultations is a good way of talking to God to ask for guidance against the backdrop of harassment and discrimination of the blacks by the government. The skillful coverage of the best and the worst times paint a clearer picture to the viewer of the complexity of moral leadership, which may not be observed in written texts.

The resistance Dr. King faces from the leaders in his attempts to liberate the blacks from impunity is well covered in the movie. Viewing such resistance gives the viewer insight into the psychological setbacks that the activist has to overcome. It is also illustrative of the consultation that moral leaders have to make


Moral imagination denotes the ability of a leader to utilize his or her mental capabilities to provide solutions to ethical issues. Morality defines what is good to do when faced with different situations. Morality requires people to act in the right manner at all times. In general, moral leaders often exercise a servant type of leadership whereby the interest of the organization and employees comes first. The available literature is rich with details regarding moral leadership with both the modern and the traditional texts differing greatly in terms of how they present the details about the subject. Watching a movie on moral leadership is greatly beneficial over reading the traditional written scripts in understanding the concept of moral leadership. Movies enable viewers to depict the emotions of the leader and understand the process of evaluating alternative courses of actions.


Aristotle. (2013). The Nicomachean ethics. New York, NY: Start Publishing LLC.

Bennis, G., & Goldsmith, J. (2003). Learning to lead: A workbook on becoming a leader. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Burger, R. (2009). Aristotle’s Dialogue with Socrates: On the Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Franklin, R. (1990). Liberating visions: human fulfillment and social justice in African-American thought. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Lebacqz, K. (1986). Six theories of justice: Perspectives from philosophical and theological ethics. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Books.

Press, E. (2012). Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times. New York, NY: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.