Moral Excellence: A Theory of How Business Leaders Stay True to Themselves

Kellie Cummings, University of Pennsylvania

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The everyday tensions of a person’s professional life present an array of conflicts of interest, which make it difficult for leaders to uphold their own moral values. Many argue that culture shapes behavior. But what aspects of human volition keep people morally straight? To answer this question, interviews with twenty business professionals who met a set of criteria that qualified them as moral exemplars were analyzed, and the results of those interviews led to the creation of a theory of moral excellence. This theory posits that moral leadership is most effective when a person’s moral awareness, perspective, and moral courage are animated and in balance with each other. The question of awareness is explored by how moral exemplars nurture their values, which overwhelmingly is through their relationships with those they trust. The benefit of balancing moral courage and perspective is to help people avoid feelings of moral regret due to either inaction, when they should have stood up for their beliefs or overreaction, when they failed to fully consider the ramifications of their actions. Excellence is considered in the Aristotelian sense of developing a human’s best qualities in order to take actions that serve the right ends. Additional findings indicate promising lines of future research.


Date Posted: 30 October 2019