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Leadership is vital in all organisations. As the writers discuss on the subject of Cultivating Leaders in this issue of CDTL Brief, find out if leaders are made or born, about the role education in nurturing leaders and who or what is responsible for developing ethical leaders.

April 2003, Vol. 6 No. 4 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Education—The Journey to Moral Leadership and Moral Citizenship
Judith A. Johnson, Ed.D.
Yamaguchi University, Japan

The world is in the midst of a global crisis and the universal cry for moral leadership is almost deafening. Although the future seems dark, a basic understanding of what is happening and why may encourage more people to attempt to carry out the role of moral leadership.

The global crisis humanity is currently experiencing is its tumultuous period of adolescence—its struggle to attain maturity. Individual feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, frustration and fear are manifested in individual and collective states of confusion and disunity. The prevalent injustice, distrust, deception, unconcern for others, lack of commitment to social welfare, and general disregard for moral principles are by-products of this confusion and disunity. Comprehension of this natural growth process and the complementary sub-processes that are assisting this evolutionary advancement—disintegration and integration—creates the assurance and confidence needed to take moral action that will result in the creation of a new civilisation.

All around us we can see the disintegration of divisive systems of thought and social institutions that are unable to adequately respond to the myriad individual, social, economic, health, environmental and political crises. Belief in the supremacy of one race or sex above another and compromised judicial systems fit into this category. At the same time, the growing consciousness of the need for unity in all areas of human existence is contributing to the generative process of integration. Grassroots NGOs, with international ties that connect people around the globe, is one example. The concept of moral leadership, which has the potential to unite people, enhance their capabilities and create effective and moral solutions to problems, is another. Schools that help students acquire self-knowledge, practise ethical behaviour and cooperation as well as develop service mindedness and global consciousness are contributing to the process of integration. Moral leadership actively strives to advance the process of integration.

As a universally accepted definition of moral leadership is still evolving, let us, instead, use a description of the primary functions of a group plus selected essential components of moral leadership as our basis for understanding the concept. Anello & Hernandez (1966, p. 3) propose that a group that functions well must:

  1. conserve and strengthen the unity of the group;

  2. carry out those tasks for which the group was created;

  3. develop the potentialities of the members of the group.

Senge’s (1990, p. 3) definition of a ‘learning organization’ amplifies the personal growth and inter-personal dynamics that are characteristic of a well-functioning group: environment in which “people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”

Anello & Hernandez (p. 61) have identified six essential elements of moral leadership that contribute to the enhancement of a group:

Six-Element Conceptual Framework

  1. Service-oriented leadership

  2. Personal and social transformation as the purpose of leadership

  3. The moral responsibility of investigating and applying truth

  4. Belief in the essential nobility of human nature

  5. Transcendence (e.g. overcoming ego and selfishness, putting the welfare of the group first)

  6. The development of capabilities

These elements imply that that moral leadership is no longer the duty, privilege or right of a select few, but of every human being. The achievement of a transformation that will effect all of humankind demands that moral leadership be applied in the family, the classroom, the workplace, as well as local, national and international organisations and communities—in all areas of human interaction. At one time or another, everyone must fulfil the role of moral leadership. It appears that cultivating a portion of the world’s population to exercise moral leadership is not our final destination, but the first leg of our journey towards universal Moral Citizenship.

Education must prepare young minds to grasp complex international realities and empower them to meet humanity’s new challenges…education needs to be established upon a vision of global community embodied in social relations which are both progressive and peaceful, dynamic, yet in harmonious equilibrium, allowing the full play of human creativity, yet harnessing this titanic creative energy to the sublimest moral ends and for the benefit of all.

— International Educational Initiatives, 1995, p. 2

In direct contrast to this explanation of the role of education, which eloquently conveys the spirit and goals of moral citizenship, are the appalling conditions found in schools today. These signals of distress are evidence that not merely the content of education must change but the process itself.

Education that has the power to transform the individual and society must prepare children “ relate in a proper manner to the three worlds that humans inhabit, the spiritual world of inner development, the social world of interpersonal relations and the world of nature surrounding us” (International Educational Initiatives, 1995, p. 4). Spiritual education—the acquisition of self-knowledge and moral character—is the foundation of all learning and action. If people know who they are and how they should interact with others and the environment, they can better apply knowledge and skills towards their own personal development and the advancement of civilisation. Another vital aspect the educational process is the use of higher order (critical and creative) thinking skills. Both moral leadership and moral citizenship require the ability to apply in real situations, critical thinking skills such as comparing, contrasting, analysing for bias and assumptions, prioritising and drawing conclusions. Creative thinking skills such as predicting, hypothesising, dealing with ambiguity and visualising are also needed in planning, solution finding and conflict resolution. Similar to spiritual education, higher order thinking skills must be practised and integrated into all subject matter areas at every level of education—pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary.

Educational goals, that have a spiritual foundation, require higher order thinking and inculcate moral citizenship, are dedicated to the achievement of universal transformation for the benefit of all humankind, and contribute to the process of integration that is similar to those of the International Educational Initiatives Curriculum (1999), shown below:

Students will…

  • express opinions, attitudes and feelings that take into consideration the welfare of local, regional and global communities

  • apply a variety of critical thinking, problem-solving and consultation skills to solve problems and make decisions and to evaluate the reasonability and morality of results

  • demonstrate a willingness to consider and appreciate different ideas and cultures and accept people impartially regardless of sex, race, nationality or religion

  • communicate effectively in a variety of forms and situations

  • act consciously and take responsibility for their behavior, actions and decisions

  • demonstrate a love for self and others through caring, cooperative and service-oriented behavior.

    © International Educational Initiatives, 1995

Educational goals comprise the road map that lets teachers, learners and parents know where education will lead the learners. If we believe that moral leadership and moral citizenship are destinations we want to reach within this century, we’d better start our journey now.


Anello, E. & Hernandez, J.B. (1996). Moral Leadership. Santa Cruz, Bolivia: Universidad Nur.

International Educational Initiatives. (1995). The Moral Imperatives of Education—Model of Spiritually-based Education. Yamaguchi, Japan: OnePress.

Johnson, J.; Higgins, M.; & Baker-Malungu, L. (1999). The International Educational Initiatives Ethically-and Spiritually-Based Global Curriculum Guide (2nd ed.). Juneau, Alaska: I.E.I., Inc.

Senge, P.M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. London: Random House.

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Inside this issue
Cultivating Leadership & Stewardship
Leaders: Born or Cultivated?
Teaching and Leadership
Cultivating Leaders in Learning Communities
Cultivating Leadership Qualities in Students
Developing Leaders
Education—The Journey to Moral Leadership and Moral Citizenship