In Lives of Moral Leadership we are told early on that, “…having the courage to speak up despite others’ moods or discouragement,” is a hallmark of a good leader. (Cole, p. 7) But this is a tool, not the tool. A megaphone does not a leader make. So how are we to be, use, and create moral leaders?
Robert Kennedy was discussed substantially in this book and I am surprised and thankful for it. He walks us through Kennedy’s decision to go after child malnutrition. Kennedy leads a group of doctors through the maze of political tape in an effort to try to successfully feed hungry children. Less than 12 months before his death, he tells one of the doctor’s,
There will be problems from the same quarters, but we’re moving along – and it’s hard to be in favor of hunger in children, even if you think of yourself as representing well-fed grown-ups. (Cole, 2001, 36)
Robert Kennedy spent time investing and enabling these doctors to understand both the political reality they operated in while simultaneously training them to maintain their moral leadership; a fine balance. He emphasized how important perception was in politics and would listen to things from his perspective, the opposition, the “common man,” etc.
For the moral doctors, the value lay in the medical observations. Kennedy was trying to teach them to be more effective. “Moreover, he was concerned about how we presented our work – not only its matter, but our manner.” (Cole, 18) As good as it might feel to be a moralist who gets his say what value does it have if it achieves nothing? To this point, an effective moral leader understands the means by which to communicate. It is important to continue action while displaying some passion and a driving momentum. Always consider what you are compromising, and consider what will be lost if you do not.
Another quote from Kennedy I found very insightful was, “You’re stepping on toes – people will move, and they’ll move to protect themselves.” (Cole, 31) True in many ways, you have to be watchful morally as well always trying to meet the standard you ask of others and when you fail, be transparent. Nothing good comes from being hidden.
Lastly, be realistic with yourself and others. Do the pep talks, build into people, be vulnerable. But Kennedy tells one of the doctors:
“I want you to know,” he repeated, “that I’ll give it all I’ve got…I’ll tell you now , it’ll seem easy at first – there’ll be a lot of attention and interest. But it’ll get hard, really hard – we’ll have to fight here (in the Congress) and elsewhere… Well, I expect we’ll get through this struggle, and I expect if we do, some children will eat better than before.” (Cole, 33)
So this road to changing the nation is going to be long and hard but there is fruit at the end. We don’t know what the bounty of the fruit will be. But we have to have faith that if we act as we must in accordance with our character the fruit will reflect the plant off of which it comes.