The concept is familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to launch a business, weather a downturn, master a sport or recover from injury. It's mental toughness—the discipline and tenacity to stick with an effort until a goal is achieved or a level of performance is reached. However, what about those times when it’s not just about endurance, when the challenge is to decide what’s fair and equitable?
According to Professor Brooke Vuckovic, developing that same resilience can help leaders build a decision-making skill set and determine the right thing to do in a difficult situation. She calls it moral toughness, and it can provide crucial guidance when navigating the kind of ethical labyrinth presented by the current pandemic—or any crisis.
“In a crisis, the short-term focus of moral leadership is the immediate demands of caring for their teams, their customers and their community,” said Vuckovic, who teaches in such Kellogg Executive Education programs as Leading for Impact within Family Enterprise, The Leader Within and the Enterprise Leadership Program, and who recently explored the issue of moral leadership in an earlier Executive Education article. “Over the long term, when the effects of crises persist for months or even years, and when new moral issues such as reckonings on racism or persistent and increasingly visible social-economic divides arise, leaders need a distinct set of skills to clarify and express their positions on these pressing issues. For a leader to say that “business is business” is not enough. The role of organizations in the overall health of the society are under the microscope.”
While such a role is normally under the purview of the C-suite, all leaders in a given organization must understand where potential crises may arise, and they need to have a grasp of where they stand on the issues so that they can face them, Vuckovic said. And they need to understand that they’re in it for the long haul.
How do leaders prepare for unknown moral challenges, especially when some of those challenges will be very complex? Vuckovic outlines four key areas which make up Moral Toughness:
Unfortunately, Vuckovic said, the vexing moral issues leaders face resist any and all “quick win” solutions. Instead, leaders must commit to building their moral toughness and resilience through devoted practice. “As is the case for our minds and bodies, our moral fiber expands our contracts according to how frequently we use it. As new challenges arise, practicing stability, fluidity, community and a long term mindset allows us to adapt and act with perhaps the highest measure of leadership over time: wisdom.”
|Dr. Brooke Vuckovic teaches leadership coaching to Kellogg's full-time MBA students and has co-developed coaching programs for multiple Executive Education programs. In addition to being the Academic Director for Leading for Impact within Family Enterprise, The Leader Within and the Enterprise Leadership Program. Dr. Vuckovic teaches in many of the leadership programs offered through Kellogg Executive Education and the Center for Nonprofit Management. Outside of Kellogg, Dr. Vuckovic has an executive coaching practice working with senior executives.