A moral leader and a thought leader are both engaged in leadership, which makes them share similarities. However, they represent two different forms of leadership. Below, you’ll see the commonalities and differences between them. This leads to what a moral leader can do to become a thought leader and vice versa. Although they are distinct leadership styles, it’s entirely possible to combine the two. Therefore, this article concludes with a step-by-step guide to integrating moral leadership and thought leadership.
Moral leadership is ‘good’
The definition of moral leadership emphasizes your determination of what’s good for society and whether your decisions contribute to that. The same question as before becomes central within an organizational context. What does the organization deem crucial to contribute to society? Hence, a second significant trait of a moral leader is to ensure that the organization is receptive to influences from both internal and external sources.
This way, the organization and the moral leader themselves continue to assess their values with employees, customers, suppliers, and society as a whole. A moral leader takes responsibility for disseminating and applying their values within their sphere of influence. In doing so, the equitable treatment of individuals and the distribution of benefits and burdens always come to the forefront.
Thouhgt leadership brings news
The description of thought leadership heavily involves a novel and cross-product perspective, often referred to as the “novel point of view.” A thought leader becomes a resource for their audience. As people often seek answers to concrete questions with evidence, a thought leader cannot go without a functional concept. Hence, another crucial trait is having the courage and energy to transform the idea into innovative actions and approaches.
Leaders without power and with impact.
The key similarity between both is that they are both leaders without power. Their ideas are not followed because people are dependent on them. They gain followers because people want to be part of it. Relationships and discussions are built on equality.
A second significant similarity is that both a moral leader and a thought leader aim to make an impact. This can be understood as gaining as much following as possible in what they do. Hence, they share another characteristic: both have translated their ideas into concrete concepts or actions. And both are keen to share their knowledge and provide opportunities for others to join.
You gain impact by taking the lead, not by having authority.Own citation
“Slow” thinking, or also “sensitive” thinking?
A third characteristic that connects moral leaders and thought leaders is their ability to step back and consider the situation and their role in it. Both acknowledge their responsibility for the outcome. They resist the temptation to act on instinct or blindly follow others. Both a moral leader and a thought leader can engage in “slow” thinking when faced with time constraints or significant interests.
However, a moral leader takes it a step further by also engaging in “sensitive” thinking. For instance, they consider whether everyone can speak freely, whether less dominant opinions are heard, and the impact of certain actions and decisions on society or specific groups within it.
Moral leader and/or thought leader?
In the table, the discussed characteristics of both types of leaders are listed. It indicates whether a specific characteristic is necessary or not for each form of leadership.
|Traits||moral leader||thought leader|
|‘novel point of view’||no||yes|
|central focus on “doing the right thing” for society.||yes||no|
|takes responsibility for conveying and applying values.||yes||no|
|actively focused on external influences and testing one’s own opinions||yes||no|
|focused on making an impact without power||yes||yes|
The “novel point of view” is the only aspect that doesn’t inherently belong to moral leadership. Through “slow and sensitive” thinking, a moral leader can also arrive at a “novel point of view.” The step to become a thought leader from being a moral leader is relatively small due to this overlap. Hence, moral leaders are often seen as thought leaders in practice. However, the reverse journey is longer. Moral leadership requires a broader perspective and a more “sensitive” mindset. The table highlights the following:
- A thought leader offers a new perspective
- Both types of leaders strive for impact without power
- A moral leader aims to “do the right thing” and seeks validation from others about what constitutes “the right thing.”
Becoming a Moral Leader and a Thought Leader
The transition from moral leadership to thought leadership is a relatively small step. What are the steps to become a moral leader? The most crucial aspect is “slow and sensitive” thinking. However, this is also the most challenging. To assist you in this process, we have developed the Moral Values Compass. This compass encompasses all the characteristics of a moral leader. You can easily assess your adherence to each characteristic on your own. Moreover, you can identify areas for improvement. A summary of the checklist is available on the webpage. If you’re interested in a comprehensive explanation and assessment, we’re here to assist you further.
Nick Nijhuis helps organizations become digitally mature, serves as a business innovation instructor, conducts training in moral leadership, and works as a NIMA examiner.