Today I witnessed an act of moral courage by a leader in an healthcare organization. It was inspiring to witness. Especially because I know something of the weighing she did before acting.

It got me thinking about moral courage. How easy it is to espouse a set of values. Easier still to betray them in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous real world context in which we operate.

How hard it is to walk the talk of integrity when to take a stand comes at personal and professional risk. How hard to judge what is courage and what is wisdom and what is worth risking for what stakes.

Because I do a lot of work in the healthcare field I have considered the question of moral courage most deeply in this context. Here is a great article exploring moral courage from the nurses perspective in  American Nurse.

But this is a question that crosses industries and extends to social and political leadership as well. Think of the crisis in Washington or the #MeToo movement as case studies in leadership and moral courage.

It is confronting to examine the way we balance personal risk (Will I risk my reputation, my influence, my alliances, my sponsorships, my position, my finances?) and corporate risk (Will I risk our reputation, influence, alliances, sponsorships, position, finances?) and the risk to the wellbeing of human beings (Will I risk their mental and physical health, security, livelihood, morale, dignity, inclusion?)

I’ve observed that most times people want to do the “right thing.” And quite often they know what that is. It’s the execution that’s the sticking point. Both literally and as a metaphor that gets evoked whenever we stick our necks out. When it comes to acting on moral courage, we need both guts and skill.


Beginning in March I’m hosting a six week program called You’re So Brave: A Master Class in Courage. It explores various kinds of courage as applied to life and leadership. The program includes a set of essays and podcasts on the topic of courage and a series of group coaching calls in which we’ll apply them to the real life challenges and opportunities that call for courage on the part of our participants. For more information or to register, click the image below.

Click here to register for You’re So Brave. 

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