Collaborative Leadership Blog

Respect & Moral Authority

Respect & Moral Authority

Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, treating people with respect. –Stephen Covey

We are living in a time when the basic rights of people are being disrespected, not the least of whom are the babies and children torn from the arms of their immigrant mothers and fathers seeking asylum from violence and abuse. We are living in a time when leaders lie daily, and leadership corruption is at an all time high. We are living in a time when treaties are torn up and people of different colors, religions or sexual orientations are maligned. We are living in a time when the basic institutions of a democracy are under seige. Many of us are asking “Is this who we are as a people? Is this how we should treat other human beings? Is this what our democracy has come to?” Respect and integrity are fundamental principles of human conduct, and are bedrock for a democratic society. Right now these principles are being violated. As a result, we are in the process of losing our moral authority, as a nation, and as a people.

What is happening nationally has created the context for how people may be treated at work. In the last few years, we have seen a dramatic increase in the violation of basic ethics and morality, creating workplaces that are not fit for the human spirit: a major bank opening accounts without customer permission; a high tech company secretly accessing private data and aiding the foreign hacking of our elections, a major financial rating company where over 2.5 million customer records were hacked; pharmaceutical companies who charge excessive prices for life-saving drugs; the companies responsible for fostering and profiting from the opioid epidemic; agribusiness using toxic chemicals on food to increase the bottom line; and then the epidemic of sexual harassment of women in the workplace, and discrimination against people of color, different religions, and sexual orientation.

Have we have lost our way? Have we lost our basic respect for the dignity of each and every human being, whether they are a worker or a customer? Have we lost our commitment to acting morally and responsibly toward others?

We are past the point of talking just about civility. We need a more fundamental conversation about morality and decency—about how we honor the rights and dignity of every human being. We have a lot of work to do to get us to a place where we can look ourselves in the mirror and say we are proud of who we are and what we stand for. How can we get there? Here are some ways we can start:

  • Saying “No”: We start by saying “no” to disrespectful, unethical and hateful behavior
  • Stand Up: We can take a stand for what is right, both at work and in our communities, for the respectful and decent treatment of every human being, regardless of their country of origin, religion, gender, race, or sexual orientation; we can take a stand for ethical conduct in all aspects of our work. It’s the adage: “see something, say something, do something”
  • Affirm: We can affirm the principles of honor, integrity, equality, and value for every human being; reevaluate corporate principles and codes of ethics and make sure they are operationalized and that there is accountability for misconduct
  • Engage: Then we can engage others in dialogue and actions that empower others to affirm these principles

Our vision is to not only create workplaces that empowers the human spirit, but also to create a society that is grounded in a moral authority that is based on respect for the dignity and humanity of every person.

There is much work to be done. Each one of us can start this journey right now by saying “no” to hate and “yes” to respect.


*Dr. Edward Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; he is an ICF certified executive coach, Lifetime Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, and best-selling author of Building Trust at the Speed of Change. You can contact him at or (919)265-9616