According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 49% of U.S. citizens believe the state of moral values in America is “poor,” and nearly 75% believe our moral values are “getting worse.” In the business world, a recent study by LRN, a giant in ethics and corporate leadership education, found that only 23% of employees believe their managers are moral leaders, and only 17% say their leaders would defend someone unfairly treated in the workplace.
In spite of these numbers, 60% of those polled stated their leadership directly asks for and expects their loyalty. An effective leader should understand loyalty must be earned. But what does it take to earn your peoples’ trust?
To build relationships of trust, a leader needs not just personal morality but must communicate and model strong moral courage. In today’s complex, shifting social environment, who can be this example? Perhaps a leader from our nation’s past can be a beacon.
It is July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, and a crowd of more than 600 white abolitionists has come to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The speaker is a young Frederick Douglass, 34 years old, tall with broad shoulders and a thick mane of dark hair. Douglass wears an iron expression as he stands and faces the room. He begins humbly, stating his nervousness at addressing such an assembly, and reflecting on the history of the United States and its promise of freedom for all. It isn’t long, however, before his true message becomes apparent.
Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?… I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us…
This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless.
Imagine being in that crowd, on the other side of that biting oratory. Imagine being told all of your beliefs mean nothing if you simply hold them in silence.
Today, we recognize this speech as one of the most eloquent and influential rebukes of slavery in our national history. On July 5, 1852, it was an enormous risk, taken by a young man fueled by moral courage.
We can learn a lot from his example. At a time when we are navigating complex, shifting issues such as gender equity, privacy rights, and racial bias, employees are looking to their leaders for answers. We can learn from Douglass and speak bravely across the gap created by long-held silence.
We, as leaders, have the unique opportunity to help build the new normal in the workplace. Studies show that employees are seventeen times more likely to follow leaders who not only take a firm stand on moral issues but are willing to talk about their reasons for doing so. Such open leadership inspires loyalty and begins to build a strong backbone of morality that can be copied throughout the organization.
Are you wondering how to start this process within your own organization? Let us help. Our unique approach to leadership training harnesses the power of experiential learning to teach proven leadership methods that get results. Let us share the Frederick Douglass story in a leadership workshop or staff retreat. You bring the team members, and we’ll create a tailored, immersive learning program, linking timeless historical examples with your workplace issues.
SHARE YOUR STORY!
An effective leader understands that open dialogue is essential in elevating the moral consciousness of a company and increasing employee loyalty. What are some constructive ways we can cultivate a safe, respectful forum for such conversations to take place? What have you tried? Please share your stories with us.