Most employees believe moral leadership leads to better business results, but few believe senior leaders consistently demonstrate those qualities.

That’s according to the findings of a new report, “The State of Moral Leadership in Business 2019,” conducted by ethics and compliance advisory firm LRN. Among 1,105 U.S. employees surveyed from a cross-sector of industries, 87 percent of respondents said the need for moral leadership in business is more urgent today than ever before.

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“Across industries, roles, gender, and tenures, respondents were equally emphatic about their desire for managers and executives to lead with the company’s deeper purpose, inspire and elevate people, uphold moral values, and actively engage in questions of right and wrong,” LRN said.

Yet, just 7 percent of survey respondents said their managers consistently exhibit the behaviors of moral leadership. More than half (59 percent) said their managers exhibit few or none of the behaviors of moral leadership—and it’s these managers who are “ten times more likely to treat people unfairly, eight times more likely to hoard information, and five times more likely to prioritize short-term results over the long-term mission,” according to the survey data.

It used to be that a carrot-and-stick approach to authority was enough. Not anymore, said LRN CEO and Founder Dov Seidman. “Only moral authority can build trust, inspire colleagues, create meaning, or help people imagine a different and better future—in other words, enabling them to do the next right things,” he said.

The findings also revealed that employees believe moral leadership will lead to better results for their companies, with 72 percent of employees saying their companies would be better at taking on their biggest challenges if led with moral authority. Additionally, 94 percent of respondents said they regard managers and executives who lead with moral authority—rather than relying solely on the formal authority of their roles—as effective at achieving business goals.

On the flip side, 82 percent of respondents said their companies face greater risks when they fail to consider the moral and ethical implications of what they do. This sentiment increases to 92 percent among respondents at companies with at least $10 billion in revenue in heavily regulated industries—such as finance and pharmaceuticals.

Moral leadership defined

In the report, Siedman describes several steps toward becoming a moral leader, including:

  • Pause to consider the deep and noble mission that truly inspires you. Leaders that demonstrate this quality slow down to reconnect with purpose and values when under great stress or urgency; consider the long-term impact of the company’s choices on people and the planet; or take time to speak with their colleagues about why their work is meaningful, for example.
  • See employees as people. “Building deep personal connections not only leads to greater effectiveness, it also boosts a leader’s resilience in the face of challenges,” the report states.
  • Foster freedom. Invite new voices and participants into the conversation and recognize those who step in.
  • Demonstrate humility. Ask for—and listen to—tough feedback.
  • Act with courage. Take a stand on a moral issue, even if it’s unrelated to your direct business objectives or might entail personal risk.
  • Seek the truth. Learn the art of a graceful challenge: “Use respectful questions to probe whether a decision or action is the most fair and just thing to do and ask colleagues to join you in reflecting on different paths and their implications.”
  • Uphold ethical standards. Explain the moral considerations embedded in your actions.

“Moral leadership is not about moralizing,” Seidman said. “It’s not simply taking a stand on social or political issues, although that can be part of it. Moral leadership is rooted in, and guided by, a moral framework and set of principles that inform how leaders approach everything they do—how they interact with others, how they make decisions, how they manage and conduct themselves. Above all, moral leadership is about how leaders touch hearts, not just minds—how they enlist others in a shared and significant endeavor and create the conditions where everyone can contribute their fullest talent and realize their deepest humanity.”

Access findings to the complete survey here