Moral authority. What is it and why is it part of managing to make a difference?

Wikipedia has a comparative definition of moral authority we like:

Moral authority is the capacity to convince others of how the world should be, as opposed to epistemic authority (relating to knowledge), which is the capacity to convince others of how the world is.

In that sense, moral authority is a kind of leadership vision around ethics, principles or fundamental truths. And managers who exert moral authority make a meaningful difference in the lives of other people because they draw a line in the sand that defines “who we are” and “how we will conduct ourselves.”

We can all think of people who have bravely exerted moral authority: Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, John McCain, Mother Teresa, C. Everett Koop (see our story in Chapter 58) and, quite recently, Senator Jeff Flake. But you can see everyday people exerting moral authority too, if you’re looking for it.

Listen in as we discuss some everyday examples of moral authority, along with questions such as:

  • Is moral authority the same as honesty?
  • What do you do when “the right thing” is not at all clear?
  • What do you do when “the right thing” comes at a cost?
  • What are the costs of not exerting moral authority?
  • How can you assess your own moral authority and make a plan to grow in this area?
  • How does moral authority relate to the culture of your organization?

Have you started reading Managing to Make a Difference yet? If not, we hope this will be the week you start! We’re more than halfway through our podcasts highlighting various topics in the book, and you can find the entire archive of our conversations here.

Until next time, manage to make a difference every day!

+ Larry Sternberg, J.D. and Kim Turnage, Ph.D.


This post highlights Chapter 58 of Managing to Make a Difference (Wiley), a handbook for hitting the sweet spot of middle management. Click here to see posts on previous chapters. Next up: Rise Above the Politics. Connect with Kim Turnage and Larry Sternberg on LinkedIn to see their latest updates.

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