Diversity in Moral Leadership

Not all leaders look the same. Some are quiet. Some are loud. Some plug away at their tasks and draw interested and committed followers by their steadiness. Others use charisma to move crowds to action, using a splash of personality and an exciting clear vision to set a better direction for a group.

In our article on diversity in moral leadership, Janet Ledesma, Mordekai Ongo and I argue that the Old Testament roles of Priest, Prophet, King and Judge present various approaches to moral leadership.  Each type of approach has its own strong moral drive and standard and also potential moral blind spots, weaknesses and bad results for the community.

The Priest is more relational, positioned close to the people, looking for reconciliation. They try to keep alive the relational touch of God in peoples lives and help keep them attentive to the divine presence in the world. Sadly, they sometimes settle for compromise and even excusing their sins and those of others (as with Aaron and Eli) in a misguided desire for “false peace.”

The Prophet is more idealistic, positioned more toward hearing God’s will, looking for fidelity, faithfulness, obedience, and compliance. But these bony-finger leaders can get feisty (Elijah killed all the false prophets. He was right in doing so but was this the righteous way?) and even nasty (as with Jonah’ attitude toward Ninevah and the Elder Brother’s attitude toward his Prodigal Brother). The ideal without a buffering relationship leads to self-righteousness and even justifies killings that by Jesus’ later standard would be considered murder.

The King is driven by the pragmatic and the need for cooperative and coordinated behavior. If that means force has be used so be it. Better a few get hurt than the whole system grumble. If he (or she) has to accumulate more and more authority to preserve the order, so be it.  The Pax Romana shows how this moral model works. Kings, like prophets, want obedience, but usually to the status quo or even better to their vision, whims and mood. King’s don’t score well on moral leadership in scripture nor in history. I view kings as a necessary evil since 1 Samuel 8 poor decision to bring them into Israel. I see this as an evil slowly unwound by the destruction of Jerusalem in the 5th Century BC and further undone by the Christian approach to leadership Jesus practice. Sadly, as  once again taken into captivity (see Luther’s Babylonian Captivity and the accompanying commentary).

The Judge is my ideal moral leader. They hear the witness of multiple voices–the Priest’s concern about relationships between God and Man, the Prophet’s concern about ideals–God’s and morals, and the King’s pragmatic concern about “it working.” Then they adjudicate between those for a better solution.

I have blogged about this several times, trying to invite us to see morality and moral impulses as distributed through humans and human communities. My essential argument is we need ways to hear these multiple moral voices and leadership styles to create more effective decisions and outcomes.

See my attempt to value the prophetic moral role but also show that it is NOT the only moral voice needed:  Jeremiah’s strong prophetic moral leadership that showed the irritation of prophets.   See the call for more moral leadership in the world and the need to see the moral diversity needed for that moral leadership.

While reading Erik Erickson’s biography of Young Man Luther, I also saw how Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego can also be useful heuristic of seeing the source of moral diversity in our world and actually in our own minds.  The prophet’s role is mirrored in his focus on the Superego, the drive of conscience (that maps to God or human expectations). The King links to the Ego, where we are driven to achieve, succeed and reach goals we dream about accomplishing. The Priestly is connected loosely to the ID and the drive of “flesh” with its appetites and impulses and social drives.

So in a true sense, we each have three main drives please God and others, please our needs and wants, and reach significance and outcomes in our work. But ultimately we need a judge–to use wisdom and higher order thinking–to adjudicate between these to discern the best path. Not all physical and social drives (ID) should be fulfilled, our conscience can be wrong, and the ideal and expectations of God and others (Superego) more tormenting than useful. Finally, and the need to set and reach and push through to goals (Ego) gives society accomplishments useful for life.

This summer I got another heuristic for seeing diversity in moral leadership. We had Vijay Govindarajan on campus speaking about his book the Three Box Solution.

Box 1 is about increasing performance. This is focused on synergies, efficiency, and performance.

Box 3 is about innovating creatively for the future. This is about breaking free of the current mindset to find new directions for action and new ways of accomplishing old goals, and even finding new goals.

Box 2 is about letting go of elements of practice that are detrimental to either Box 1 or Box 3 work. Its ending, trashing, starting over, repurposing.

He argues that executives need to spend equal time in each of the three boxes. My experience is leaders themselves tend to be more likely to live in one box more than other because of personality or what aspect (Superego, Id, Ego) has been the most dominant in their lives or by the way social and work demands have formed and shaped them.

I see the need to have three types of leaders on each team or main decision-making group: those who are attentive to details and processes that increase performance; those willing to risk and venture out with hunches, and finally those willing to close down (hatchet leaders) what is not working and get rid of sacred cow and sacred cow worshipers.

(I am still processing the moral variation at work in each Box).

I hope this helps you think about you and your leadership and the leadership of the people around you, even the ones who irritate you the most.

Ultimately, the gospels present Jesus as the whole Leader–Prophet, Priest, King and Judge. The rest of us must learn to live in our fragmentation–looking to Him as the True Leader, and to those around us that bring aspects of His leadership to blend with our own fragmented leading.





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