In the seeming mess that is the contemporary world, leadership demands moral potency.
Characterised as “a psychological state marked by an experienced sense of ownership over the moral aspects of one’s environment, reinforced by efficacy beliefs in the capabilities to act to achieve moral purpose in that domain, and the courage to perform in the face of adversity and persevere through challenges (Sean T. Hannah & Bruce J. Avolio, “Moral Potency: Building the Capacity for Character-Based Leadership,” 2010), this tripartite blend of moral courage, moral efficacy, and moral ownership serves as a compass, providing direction so that we can measure our lives accordingly. Yet it feels in increasingly short supply.
As practitioners and leaders in education around the world, we operate in environments that are becoming ever more complex and ambiguous, from politics to curricular requirements to legal issues, not to mention geopolitical risks and more. These differing and highly ambiguous contexts, including our specific local contexts, can present us with moral dilemmas from the classroom to the boardroom, and the usual paths of resolving them by dealing with competing needs and values of myriad stakeholders seem to be presenting us with more obstacles and considerations than ever before.
We have the highest expectations for our students, for our own children. Among other educational outcomes, we want them to make decisions informed by moral direction. Yet, when they look at the world around them, there is much failure in society to do just that. Too many actions we see today, political or otherwise, represent the summit of a lack of moral potency on a mountain of smaller, un-actioned and morally bereft decisions by many parties.
As educationalists, we are positioned to respond to this deep need in society by exercising our moral potency — our institutions are paving the way for future leadership around the globe. Our students must see us model this potency, so that they will “pay it forward” as they assume positions of leadership in the very near future.