Newsletter: Moral Leadership

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What Fred Rogers Teaches Us About Moral Leadership
“This past month a documentary called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about Mister (Fred) Rogers was released. Documentaries rarely make it to the big screen and do not tend to do well at the box office. After just two weeks, the film has grossed nearly $2 million dollars. There have been lots of articles speculating why it is doing so well. I think we find a central clue from Morgan Neville the director. In making the film, he said he was interested in asking “ questions about moral leadership .”

What is moral leadership? Consider this account of a key moment in the history of Mr. Rogers :
In the 1970’s, when Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was threatened with cancelation, mothers across the country walked door-to-door collecting funds to keep it afloat. No one asked them to. Certainly not Mister Rogers himself. They did it because the thought of him going off the air was so appalling, to them and their children, that they galvanized themselves into action.
We like to think that real leaders inspire others to previously unreachable heights. In this case, the values that Fred Rogers inspired in his viewers drove regular people to exhibit passionate, unsolicited behaviors that led to a very substantial and non-regular outcome… Congressional funding for years of public television.
Moral leadership is tied to virtue. There are hundreds of virtues, including patience, decisiveness, conviction, humility, self-reliance, unity, engagement, mindfulness, joyfulness, sacrifice, and so on. Moral leadership begins when one person exhibits one or more virtues at an unconventional level. This gives rise to something scientists call idealized influence. The virtuous behavior inspires unconventional outcomes, including regular people exhibiting “passionate, unsolicited behaviors….”
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8 comments on “Newsletter: Moral Leadership

  1. Thank you so much Robert for your blog post today! I always enjoy reading them, and this is a shining example of the wonderful and inspiring message that you’re putting out to the world about positive leadership.
    I am interested in enrolling in your ‘Becoming Who you Really Are’ program, remotely from Australia. Is that possible? If so, can you point me to how I might join that please?
    Thanks so much!
    Regards, Sabine

    1. Hi Sabine. Thank you for your kind words. It is definitely possible to remotely enroll. There is a new cohort beginning soon. I suggest you email (Richard Olson). I believe this is the link to the next offering ( but you can verify with Richard. Please let me know how your experience is and if there are any questions I can answer as you participate. Best of luck! Bob

  2. Thanks so much for sharing, Bob! I too enjoyed the Mister Rogers movie. In looking back, I’d say that Mister Rogers had more of a positive impact on my life than anyone else I’ve never met. I enjoyed his quote which you also referenced on “How do we make goodness attractive?” Thanks for all you do to make goodness attractive AND providing actionable ways to pursue goodness for ourselves as leaders!

    1. Hi Andrew. Isn’t he amazing? To be so thoughtful in considering his approach to his work and to make his work his ministry. Imagine if we all did that. The world would be a different place!

  3. “But how do we make goodness attractive?” I’m a secondary teacher in a low socioeconomic area in Australia. Lately I’ve been telling them ‘you’ve gotta have a heart of flesh and a backbone of steel!’ I’ve been trying to inspire them that sometimes you’ve got to stand up for what you believe in, regardless of the consequences. You’ve got to see the sparkle in a 15 year old’s eyes when it dawns on them that they could dare to stand for truth.

    1. You are in such an important career with the power to impact the trajectory of so many people in these formative teen years. How wonderful that you see beyond the traditional role of teacher to a greater purpose.

    2. I keep thinking about this. I love it! Can you write a short story illustrating in detail a moment when you taught this and one or more responded? Which such moment do you feel most passionate about? If you are able and willing, I will edited your account and make it a blog entry so you can touch the hearts of 3,000 readers.

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