Spirituality and Ethics
Ten Ethical Lessons - Lesson 6

No matter what your position in your organization, lead by example.

Leading by example is crucial because others are always watching, especially your subordinates. Those in positions under you talk about how you act and what your actions reflect about your expectations for their behavior. For example, if you cut corners or fudge on your expense account, others will do the same and get down in the mud with you. In contrast, if you take the high road or demand the highest ethical standards from yourself, others will follow in your footsteps. This type of leadership is what creates a company's culture - not written rules or a code of conduct - but the everyday actions of senior leadership that reflect values and priorities. It seems to me that this lesson is about character development and moral integrity; and, the importance of the leader and his/her subordinates having strong consciences. Following one's conscience has been in the news a lot in the last month due to President Obama's initial requirement that Roman Catholic hospitals, social service agencies, and educational institutions, which serve both Catholics and non-Catholics, make available through their insurance plans both contraceptive and abortion facilitating devices. The alternative was a hefty fine. In effect, this was a command for Catholic institutions to violate their consciences in their core moral beliefs. The requirement has since been revised. What is conscience? It is "the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one's own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right and be good. Stephen Covey connects conscience with the wisdom of the ages and the wisdom of the heart when he writes, "It is our internal guidance system, which allows us to sense when we act or even contemplate acting that's contrary to principle." Moral theologian James Keenan points out that our conscience calls us to grow by cultivating a virtuous life. He states that conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a person.

Author Timothy O'Connell lists five elements in the connection between conscience and character:

  1. Feelings: objects, persons, or events evoke from us certain feelings that lead us to act in certain ways.
  2. Beliefs/Convictions: feelings reflect certain convictions we hold that become the motivating force for our behavior.
  3. Experience: convictions have been formed on the basis of the kinds of experiences we have had along the way.
  4. Community: experiences take place in community where values are kept alive by being embodied in a certain way of life. (This can easily be seen in an organization's culture.)
  5. Modeling: certain members of the community embody values in a clear way to be the role models of a certain way of living. (This is Lesson No. 6 in a nutshell. It also relates to mentoring.)

Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First (New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1995), p. 60.
James F. Keenan, S.J. Moral Wisdom ( Lanham , Maryland : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004). See Chapter Two, on "Conscience."
Timothy O'Connell, Making Disciples(New York, N.Y.: Crossroad, 1998).


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Virtue Ethics The Spirituality of St. Ignatius Ten Ethical Lessons Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4 Lesson 5 Lesson 6 Lesson 7 Lesson 8 Lesson 9 Lesson 10
The Our Father The Beatitudes The Ten Commandments Other Topics About Fr. Max Oliva, SJ


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