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Moral Leaders


One of the two overarching leadership types described by Burns (1978) is the moral leader. The moral leader possesses honorable values and exhibits behaviors that are consistent and aligned with the needs and beliefs of the followers.


Burns believed that moral leaders were diametrically opposed to amoral leaders, and that only moral leaders had a higher purpose in life. In fact, Burns challenge the notion that amoral leaders should even be labeled as leaders.

As identified by Burns, the characteristics of a moral leader include:

  • Assuming responsibility for their actions and commitments made to their followers; moral leaders keep the promises they make by personally leading the change.
  • Understanding that alternatives exist, and possessing the willingness to switch direction, if needed.

Power is given to the moral leader by their followers based on mutual needs. That is to say, they gain support by aligning their initiatives with the needs of the followers.

Related Terms

amoral leaders, transactional leaders, transformational leaders