Personal moral wisdom

Abstract: We often hear that we should follow our moral compass – or our judgment, our values, our conscience, or our image of our best self – when we face difficult decisions. The basic idea is that we have some inner, almost automatic guide to right and wrong. This idea is profoundly true and yet profoundly misleading. It is sound advice for simple situations, but it fails us when we confront the complex problems of work and life. Interviews with executives and extensive research – in psychology, moral philosophy, decision theory, and introductory neuroscience – point to a better perspective on our moral compasses. This perspective can be summarized in three statements. First, it is a mistake to compare our moral compasses to the simple pocket devices that hikers carry. Second, our true moral compass is a deep, complex, fragile aspect of our humanity, best described as our personal moral wisdom. Third, this perspective has a challenging central implication: it says, in essence, that when we make the hard decisions of work and life, what is right is what we ultimately decide is right, relying on our personal moral wisdom. The central focus of this book is the question of how to do this well. Our personal moral wisdom is crucial in our leadership moments. These are the little studied, elusive points in time when we pivot from discussion, analysis, and reflection to action and commitment. In these moments, we decide – we make a “final, final decision” – and then we own the consequences.

Click on the citation to read the chapter:

Badaracco, J. L. (2023). Personal Moral Wisdom. In Your True Moral Compass: Defining Reality, Responsibility, and Practicality in Your Leadership Moments (pp. 1-7). Cham: Springer Nature Switzerland.