We all lead in various ways--in our homes, communities, churches and companies. As leaders we are responsibility for making decisions that affect the wellbeing of others. We do this by making decisions that are good, right, wise and just. This is the essence of leadership—making and implementing these type decisions.
All Such Decisions are “Moral” Decisions
More specifically, the types of decisions leaders make are moral decisions. Moral decisions are those that lead to benefit (flourishing) or harm (emaciation) of others (on the societal level the "common good"). For instance, your decision of what color shirt to wear today is not a moral decision, because it does not lead to benefit or harm to others. But your decision whether to pursue this or that policy or program is a moral decision, since the outcome will result in benefit or harm to others.
Moral Decisions Require Moral Reasoning Based on “Ethical Systems”
Whenever someone engages in moral reasoning leading to making a moral decision (a decision related to the benefit or harm of another), he or she does so based on one or more ethical “systems.” Ethical systems are foundational approaches to ethics that all specific moral decisions are based upon. They are the underlying values driving all other moral choices. Therefore we must make decisions based on the proper ethical systems in our moral reasoning. In short, we should make (morally) right decisions, based on proper (moral) values, which lead to (morally) good results--the flourishing of others and the common good.
Getting more specific, there are three main approaches to moral decision making—three main ethical systems. I believe two of them are correct approaches to moral decision making, and the third is faulty. This is because I believe the first two are based on true foundational principles, and as a result, decisions based on these two systems lead to decisions that are good/right/wise/just. I believe the third system is based on false foundational principles, and as a result, decisions based on this third system leads to decisions that are bad/wrong/foolish/unjust.
So we should make decisions based on one or both of the two correct systems, and avoids making decisions based on the third, faulty system.
Isn’t This “Legislating Morality”?
Some may object that any moral reasoning that leads to public policies within our community or company is essentially “legislating morality,” and therefore is to be avoided. Hopefully by what I’ve said above the fallacy of this objection is obvious. Since all decisions that affect the well-being of others are moral decisions, and since these are the type of decisions we as leaders must make, it follows that all public policy decisions are legislating morality. So the question is not whether or not to legislate morality, but how to legislate proper morality (that which is good/right/wise/just) that leads to human flourishing and the common good. Again, these are the decisions we must make well.
The Next Few Weeks: Unpacking These Three Ethical Systems
So what are these three ethical systems? I will unpack them over the next several weeks. My hope is this will provide clear ways to make good/right/wise/just decisions in our leadership at home and at work.
I hasten to add one caveat. Volumes have been written on what I’ve said above, as what I'll post about this over the next several weeks. In a short blog post like this, I can only offer a brief summary of each system. So please post comments, questions, pushbacks, or anything else that may help us discuss these issues in more detail. Thanks!
Until next week, grace and peace.
For further reading, I suggest Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics by Scott Rae