Business leaders cannot pretend that what they do is value-free, even if they want to. The individual who aspires to be a leader must throw off traditional typecast roles: the wealthy entrepreneur or investor, the famous deal maker, the tough chief executive, even the charismatic leader. These roles have become commodities – they can be adopted at will by individuals, and even bought and sold in the marketplace (a specialty of executive recruiting firms). The true business leader’s more significant role is to be in touch with, and act on, the moral currents that influence his or her colleagues. People do not want commoditized leadership; they want principles. To fulfill this role requires understanding of the moral issues that sway individuals, whether they know it or not.
Obviously, leaders need to develop a competitive strategy around their companies’ strengths, but the difficult part, the differentiating part, is less likely to be the framing of the strategy than the inspiration that turns it into action. It is moral purpose that drives action consistently and in the long term. Hence moral purpose is central to the kind of modern business leadership that is hard to imitate and thus provides the basis for the kind of enduring competitive advantage that can sustain a company for decades.