#METC: Motivating Moral Behavior

I messed up. I thought our next section was on Setting an Ethical Command Climate, but that starts Wednesday. Today and tomorrow we’re talking about motivating moral behavior. We have a few readings that take different approaches to why people act the way they do – as leaders, it’s important for you to be familiar with these different approaches so you can match your motivational strategies to the individuals you encounter.

  • Mark Amstutz talks about different ways we think through moral questions and how our frameworks for viewing the world (realism, idealism, etc.) shape those frameworks;
  • Robinson focuses on the dual faces of honor: magnanimity and integrity as external and internal motivators of moral behavior, shaping how we define situations and which actions we are willing or even compelled to take;
  • Erickson and Haidt and Joseph deal with moral impulse – what non-rational intuition shape our actions before we’ve had the time to think through an issue in the way detailed by Amstutz?

It’s not the case that one guy is right and the others are wrong: we do all these things to different degrees at different times. The key is to become increasingly familiar with what drives people to act morally so that we can contribute to that motivation and help shape it, when someone’s moral impulse misfires due to lack of experience, training, or character.

Make sense? Good. Let’s start with the components of moral behavior (which I take from James Rest, who you’ll read for next week).

Components of Moral Behavior:

  1. Moral Sensitivity: Ability to see the moral component of a situation. (Culture shapes in the ways outlined by Haidt and Joseph)
  2. Moral Judgment: Ability to decide the right thing to do. This includes reason and intuition. Eriksen IDs how judgment improves through the accumulation of experience; Haidt and Joseph ID how both innate human tendencies and cultural conditioning shape how we weigh different options.
  3. Moral Motivation: Ability to chose the right thing over competing options. This includes one’s sense of agency – can come from within (integrity), from without (magnanimity, institution, family, society). Kohlberg’s stages of moral development also apply to motivation.
  4. Moral Character: Habits that reinforce the intuitive aversion or compulsion to act in certain ways. As experience and intuition grows stronger, so does one’s character. This can be good or bad. Character is living, much like a muscle. If it’s not growing stronger, it’s atrophying. This raises the importance of ethical and moral fitness, which we’ll discuss at the end of the course.

What we’re talking about in this section is moral motivation, but you can see that the issues of intuition and virtues do more than simply motivate action.  They permeate how we understand moral behavior. Part of what we’ll do here and continue to do through the course is add layers onto these four components of moral behavior so we can better understand why people behave poorly and how you as a leader can help reinforce good behavior in others.

Here I’m focused specifically on Haidt and Joseph’s point about parent’s providing frequent moral feedback, including displays of moral emotion, and not exposing them to conflicting messages as being key to cultivating culturally appropriate virtues and intuitions.  I’m also drawing from Eriksen’s point that practice (even if not experience) helps build habit of including moral considerations into people’s situational response. It also helps develop a solid foundation to ground moral behavior, which can speed the process of gaining expertise from experience.  Two ways of possessing knowledge – to know through acquaintance (experience) and to know through description.  They should reinforce each other. The question is how you, as leaders, help shape both in constructive ways within your organizations.

We’ll start the conversation here and see where it goes. I look forward to your thoughts!


One thought on “#METC: Motivating Moral Behavior

  1. Pingback: #METC: Moral Development | Endeavor to Persevere

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