The Phenomenon of Moral Leadership

Subject: Leadership Styles
Pages: 12
Words: 3392
Reading time:
12 min
Study level: PhD


A leader is any individual who influences and guides other people in order to attain certain desired outcomes. A leader acts as a role model and leads by example. Effective leadership is characterized by the ability to persuade others into following certain rules and guidelines. Persuasion is only possible if a leader is honest and trustworthy. The main objective of moral leadership is to lead and serve people by doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong (Bennis & Goldsmith, 2013).

Ethical or moral leadership respects the dignity and rights of other people, upholds personal responsibility, and promotes standards that define moral and ethical conduct. Effective leaders persuade people by influencing their attitudes, values, and standards. An important aspect of moral leadership is that individuals who take leading roles make known their values and ethics to their followers or subordinates (Bennis & Goldsmith, 2013).

Moreover, they incorporate them in their leadership through their decisions and actions. Moral leaders are separated from other leaders by their willingness to forego short-term decisions and actions that could have long-term ramifications on the people they lead (Franklin, 1990). Effective and successful leaders know about the importance of practicing ethical behavior and leading based on moral values and precepts. This paper is going to discuss moral leadership by analyzing the leadership styles of Mahatma Gandhi and Elon Musk.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi is an example of an individual who practiced moral leadership and used it to transform his country and the world. His leadership can be described as a classical example of moral leadership because of certain principles that include sacrifice, nonviolence, service, truth, fearlessness, and primacy of duties over rights (Dalton, 2012). Gandhi used his influence to attain independence for India. However, this feat alone does not make him a moral leader. He is a moral leader because of what he did to improve the welfare of poor people in India and make the world a better place to live. Gandhi’s leadership was exemplary because even though he was not rich and did not have an official political title, he led the people of India to emancipate themselves from the chains of colonialism and oppression (Dalton, 2012).

Unlike other leaders, Gandhi did not have command over an army and did not have great wealth that he could use to create influence. He derived his power from people who had trust in him as a spiritual leader. His moral leadership was characterized by the philosophy of nonviolence. Gandhi’s way of life was similar to that of people who politically and economically marginalized by the authorities. His main agenda was to fight and eradicate oppression and enslavement that the colonists were subjecting the Indians to.

Moral values

Gandhi was aware of the act that the only way to fight hatred was through practicing forgiveness, tolerance, and love. His moral values included truth, honesty, courage, fearlessness, selfless service, simplicity, nonviolence, and love (Dalton, 2012). One of the qualities of moral leadership is the readiness to lead based on moral values (Franklin, 1990). Gandhi believed in personal responsibility and ethical behavior based on truth and non-violence. He successfully used the philosophy of non-violence to annihilate racial discrimination, colonial rule, oppression, moral degradation, and economic exploitation of Indians (Dalton, 2012).

Gandhi knew that by engaging in violent riots and demonstration, many people would be killed and many others would suffer for no reason. Moral leaders put the needs of people first before their own (Franklin, 1990). Gandhi was not interested in gaining power, wealth, or political influence. Instead, he wanted to emancipate his people from the ills of colonial rule and create better lives form them. This is a classical example of servant leadership. His leadership taught the world that an indomitable will is more important than physical strength, leadership by example is the best form of leadership, and victory can be attained without involving violence (Dalton, 2012).

His self-suffering and fearlessness are some of the traits that enabled him to fight against colonial rule and attain victory. He was ready to suffer and give up his own life for the sake of his people. A moral leader promotes dignity and respectfulness, and respects people’s feelings, values, wishes, and decisions. Respect is demonstrated through listening to people and their opposing viewpoints, practicing compassion and understanding, and authenticating their beliefs and values. Gandhi incorporated people’s beliefs and views in his fight against colonial rule. He listened to them attentively, practiced compassion, and lived a simple life in order to lead by example (Dalton, 2012).

Moral values and ideals

Gandhi spoke in a low soft tone and did not possess exceptional public speaking skills that many leaders of today have. However, many people were drawn to him because of his pious lifestyle, morality, simplicity, and the pursuit of truth. Moral leaders are aware of their weaknesses and imperfections and work hard to ensure that they do not affect their leadership. On the other hand, they use their strengths to improve their leadership, serve people, and make up for their weaknesses (Franklin, 1990). Gandhi was conscious of his weakness and once said that many people misunderstood him because they thought he was a perfect human being.

He stated that his strengths were in his weaknesses and worked hard to overcome his imperfections. Spirituality and morality were channels of overcoming his imperfections and improving his strengths (Dalton, 2012). Non-violence was the main characteristic trait of Gandhi’s leadership. Through his leadership, he demonstrated to the world that it was possible to attain violence and improve the lives of people without shedding blood or losing lives. His moral leadership was evident from his ideals because he encouraged his followers to practice compassion, humility, forgiveness, humility, and tolerance toward other people (Dalton, 2012).

Ethical leaders act as role models by behaving in ways that reflect their values and beliefs (Press, 2012). Gandhi was a role model because he practiced what he taught. He was humble, compassionate, caring, and forgiving. Teaching people to be compassionate, humble, and forgiving was consistent with his beliefs and actions because he lived those values.

Selfless service and sacrifice

Gandhi considered service to others and sacrifice as the most important pillars of leadership. He maintained that service leadership is achieved by focusing on one’s responsibilities and duties rather than rights. Gandhi considered sacrifice as one of the most important aspects of life. He stated that it is the law of life because nothing can be gained without paying a certain price for its attainment (Dalton, 2012).

It is impossible to serve other people without the assistance of certain values that include courage, conscience, and character (integrity) (Press, 2012). Gandhi always followed his conscience and did not allow external political forces to deter him from achieving his mission. He stated that a leader who disobeys his conscience owing to external pressure gives up their right to lead people because conscience is the moral compass that helps people to choose between right and wrong (Dalton, 2012). Moral leadership is primarily concerned with doing what is right. In order for a leader to do what is right, it is necessary for them to possess courage and fearlessness. Gandhi is one of the global leaders who had great power and influence over his followers. However, the power did not originate from the use of violence, political persuasion, or weapons. Instead, it came from the influence of his convictions, values, fearlessness, sacrifice, and pursuance of truth, love, and justice (Dalton, 2012).

He sacrificed and worked incessantly to improve the lives of his people by empowering the weak and poor, he taught them that it was their duty and responsibility to improve their lives by fighting exploitation, oppression, and injustice through non-violence. Moral leaders empower people by giving them a sense of purpose and freedom (Press, 2012). Gandhi gave people a sense of purpose and moral strength by practicing what he taught and dedicating his life to their service. An important trait of moral leadership is selfless service. A leader is required to act and behave in a manner that is aimed at the betterment of society and not personal gain.

A leader who practices selfless service for the betterment of society is considered by other people as someone who is worth emulating and following. Gandhi provided selfless service to his people and that s why they followed and believed in him so much (Dalton, 2012). They listened to him and did what he told them to do because they trusted him. He was a person of integrity who was honest and transparent. He never did anything for personal gain but for the betterment of society. Gandhi’s selfless service and sacrifice effects people’s lives today because he set an example of how moral leadership should be practiced. He demonstrated that leaders should make serving others their priorities. In contemporary society, there are many leaders who are dedicated to selfless service and sacrifice for the sake of their country’s prosperity.


Gandhi’s leadership has been praised and copied by many leaders around the world because of its incorporation of moral principles. Despite its aforementioned strengths and benefits to the Indian society and the world, it had several weaknesses that affected people negatively. First, Gandhi was an authoritarian and strict leader who never compromised his convictions, beliefs, and values. He had a philosophy that he applied towards himself and his follower. Gandhi created Ashrams that were aimed at training workers whose role was to spread his teachings across India. People who trained were of high moral principles.

From outside, the approach seemed an effective and simple way of fighting injustice, exploitation, and colonial rule. However, workers who participated were subjected to tight stringent discipline and moral regimens that were similar those followed by Gandhi (Dalton, 2012). Gandhi taught the philosophy of nonviolence. However, compelling people to live up to his standards and follow his strict regimen can be considered as an act of violence against them. He was a very strict and authoritarian leader who held people to his own high standards. These aspects of his leadership contradicted the precepts of moral leadership that promotes justice and fairness to all people.

Gandhi was also not consistent on certain matters. For instance, when the issue of the partition of India arose, he promised that he would not let it happen. However, when he realized that the Congress Working Committee was supporting the idea, he did little to stop it even though he was against partition of India. A moral leader does not compromise his convictions and does what it takes to protect them.

Elon Musk and moral leadership

Elon musk is an American inventor, investor, engineer, and founder of SpaceX, Tesla motors, and SolarCity. His leadership is an example of moral leadership in contemporary society. He exhibits a transformational style of leadership that aims to make the world a better place for the human species (Vance, 2015). His companies are evidence of his readiness to offer selfless service for the betterment of society. For example, Tesla motors mission is to manufacture cars that use electricity and as a result reduce reliance on fossil fuels that pollute the environment. SolarCity aims to make solar energy the main source of energy in the United States.

On the other hand, SpaceX mission is to enhance the survival of the human race by making the colonization of Mars possible. Musk relies on ethical standards, values, and moral convictions to achieve the missions of his companies (Vance, 2015). One of the strengths of transformational leadership is its emphasis on the values, morals, and needs of the people. This type of leadership desists from using power and coercion.

Morality focuses on concepts of right and wrong as well as situational decision-making based on moral perspectives. Ethical leadership theory suggests that the decisions made and actions taken by leaders are informed by their ethical values and beliefs (Linzey, 2015). In addition, leaders are usually considered as role models. Therefore, they play a key role in setting the ethical climate of their organizations.

One of the most important ethical challenges that people in modern society face is the issues of environmental conservation. Pollution has increased immensely over the past few decades and many companies have made it part of their corporate social responsibility to implement policies that conserve and improve the environment. That is one of Musk’s concerns right now. He is determined to use his influence and leadership to reduce the carbon footprint on earth by lowering dependence on fossil fuels and increasing the acceptance of solar energy as an alternative source of energy (Vance, 2015).

Environmental conservation might not have been considered as an ethical issue during the times of Gandhi. However, based on levels of pollution and environmental degradation, it is an ethical issue today. One of the traits of moral leaders is that they put the interests of other people before their own (Press, 2012). They focus their leadership on improving communities and bettering society. The main objective of Musk is to make Earth a better planet to live on by lowering the carbon footprint. That is a sign of his selfless service. As mentioned earlier, moral leaders sacrifice and offer selfless service for the sake of other people.

When Musk sold his first company (PayPal), he made a lot of money. Instead of choosing to live luxurious life, he used the entire amount to start two companies (Tesla Motors and SpaceX) that aim to improve human life on Earth (Vance, 2015). If the companies had failed, then he would have been reduced to penury. However, his concern for the welfare of the human race pushed him to take the risk and invest all his wealth into the two companies.

Moral leaders foster equality and justice by treating everyone equally. One of the major highlights of Musk’s leadership is the fact that he treats his employees equally and gives them unlimited opportunities for growth and development (Vance, 2015). Employees who work for Musk say that he is a very demanding leader which does not accept average results from his employees. This is acceptable because a leader is required to push employees into exploiting their potential by helping them t move beyond their comfort zones. Musk understands that his employees have great potential or achievement and the only way to exploit it is through providing them with challenges.

He sets standards high and expects anyone who works for him to live up to them (Vance, 2015). He is a very hard working leader who leads by example. He has very high standards and pushes himself harder than he pushes his employees. Moral leaders do not give commands and tell followers what is required of them. Instead, they live according to their beliefs and standards and as a result communicate through their actions, behaviors, and decisions (Linzey, 2015). Employees know what is expected of them by watching Musk. Two of his most prominent characteristic traits are honesty and transparency (Vance, 2015).

Since the founding of SpaceX, Musk has been transparent and honest about the company’s activities. For example, he did not hide the fact that the first three rocket launches failed and nearly bankrupted him (Vance, 2015). If the fourth attempt had failed, then his company would have collapsed and he would have declared bankruptcy. Many leaders in his position would have lied to cover up their weaknesses and failures. However, Musk upheld honesty and transparency by telling the truth. Whenever something wrong happens in one of his companies, he tells the public the truth and does not hide some information to save face. Honesty, transparency, and telling the truth are hallmarks of moral leadership (Linzey, 2015).

Moral leadership is primarily based on empowering people to achieve their greatest potential. In each of his business ventures, Musk empowers his employees to achieve great accomplishments by exploring the possibilities that exist in industries that many leaders fear to explore (Vance, 2015). For example, many leaders refrain from investing in electric cars and spec exploration because of the risks involved.

However, Musk does not fear exploring those areas because he knows that their exploration is important for the welfare of human beings. His philosophy is maintaining high standards and exploring opportunities that exist in industries that are nearly forgotten (Vance, 2015). Musk explores areas that many people fear because of their inherent benefits to society. He does not care much about the financial risks involved because he believes that if any venture can make Earth a better place, then it is worth pursuing.

One of musk’s strongly held value is perseverance especially in the face of adversity. People have developed trust in his abilities and leadership because of his tenacity and relentlessness (Vance, 2015). Tesla has struggled financially in several instances. Instead of giving up and quitting, Musk continued to use his own money to keep the company running. He was promised his employees that he will never give up despite what happens. He is a strong believer in never giving up. On the other hand, he is revered by his many for being self aware. He knows about his strengths and weaknesses, and does not shy from talking about them.

He has the ability to learn and comprehend complex topics that many people find difficult. That is how he developed interest in space exploration. In order to make up for his weaknesses, Musk employs highly capable employees and consults experts in different fields to find answers to tough questions that are beyond his capabilities (Vance, 2015). Musk has been cited in many occasions acknowledging the role that his employees play in the success of his companies. He attributes the success to the efforts and hard work of his employees and considers himself as the face of the company. Contemporary society exists on a moral directive of potential and Musk fulfills it by giving people an opportunity to grow and develop despite their race or gender.


Despite the strengths that Musk’s leadership possesses, there are certain weaknesses that affect society in a negative way. One of the weaknesses is his propensity to use his influence and great ambitions to manipulate state governments and get what he wants. For example, he has received billions of dollars in government subsidies that have left many people dissatisfied (Vance, 2015). As a result of the subsidies, taxpayers will have to pay more in taxes in order to cover them. This has affected many people especially low-income earners who cannot afford to pay more in taxes to fund such projects.

Another weakness is musk’s propensity to domineer over employees and obsess over minute and insignificant details (Vance, 2015). This has resulted in Musk being described as a non-manager. Musk does not give employees enough freedom to exercise their ideas because he sets a certain standard that they are required to adhere to. This limits their potential because they are supposed to use their jobs to practice their creativity and imagination. Musk does not allow employees to direct projects according to their wishes. Limited freedom increases employees stress levels because they feel that they are not in control of their work and lives. High stress levels reduce performance and productivity.


Mahatma Gandhi and Elon Musk are examples of individuals who can be described as moral leaders. Their actions and decisions have impacted people’s lives in significant ways. Gandhi used his philosophy of nonviolence to liberate India from the oppressive and exploitative rule of colonists. He preached and practiced values such as love, tolerance, forgiveness, justice, and peace. His leadership style endeared him to many people in Indian and around the world. For example, revolutionary leaders such as Martin Luther king and Nelson Mandela were greatly influenced by his example.

In contemporary society, Elon Musk is an example of a leader who exhibits moral leadership. His actions and decisions are aimed at improving the lives of people and making earth a better place. He puts the needs of others before his own, makes decisions based on a set of ethical and moral standard, and lives by a set of values that inform his actions. He is committed to addressing the problem of environmental degradation that presents an ethical dilemma in today’s society. The survival of the human race depends primarily on environmental conservation and Musk is committed to improving the Environment through his companies.


Bennis, W., & Goldsmith, J. (2013). Learning to lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Dalton, D. (2012). Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Franklin, R. M. (1990). Liberating Visions: Human Fulfillment and Social Justice in African-American thought. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press.

Linzey, J. F. (2015). Moral Leadership. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Press, E. (2012). Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times. New York, NY: MacMillan.

Vance, A. (2015). Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. New York, NY: Harper Collins.