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Moral Myopia and Leadership

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

We've all heard the saying, "With great power comes great responsibility." I argue that we have a problem: With great power, also comes great blindness. Here are some reasons:

  • Whatever leaders did throughout their careers got them where they are now. Under such circumstances, how would you convince a leader to change? How do you explain that what worked before no longer works now?

  • Power begets power. The more power one has, the more one is likely to receive. Thus, power is rewarded by its very existence.

  • The more power one has, the less likely others are to tell one the truth. Think about it: How likely are you to have a heart-to-heart with an all-powerful individual in your organization and tell them what they are doing wrong?

Why does all that matter? Well, let's talk about ethics, for starters. Human beings are extremely good at what ethics scholars call ethical fading (removing the ethical colors of a situation) or moral myopia (the inability to see ethical situations clearly). Watch this video from the University of Texas' excellent page "Ethics Unwrapped."


  • Leaders have power.

  • Power increases blindness.

  • Even non-leaders are already quite good at ignoring ethical situations.

My question to #HR colleagues: How do you help leaders recognize their limits? How do you help leaders understand the dangers of ethical lapses especially when people have considerable power? In other words: How do you reduce moral myopia in those who have the power to cause the most damage?

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