Moral Courage

  • Kim StromEmail author


Moral courage involves taking principled but unpopular positions. Leaders often encounter situations in which they must speak out or act for what is right, even at personal risk of criticism, reprisal, ostracism, and even dismissal. While there are numerous individual and institutional barriers to acting with courage, leaders also have the power to create organizational cultures that promote integrity through transparent values, clear communications, courageous followership, and groupthink prevention. Leaders must also build their own capacities for courage by understanding the barriers to courage, identifying supports and role models, and cultivating the ability to broach difficult conversations.


Ethics Integrity Accountability Moral distress Moral courage Groupthink Followership Organizational culture Appreciative inquiry Risk management 


  1. 1.
    Austin W. Contemporary healthcare practice and the risk of moral distress. Healthc Manage Forum. 2016;29(3):131–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Miller WI. The mystery of courage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 2000. p. 254.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Aspden P, Wolcott JA, Bootman JL, Cronenwett LR. Preventing medication errors: quality chasm series. Institute of Medicine Board on Health Care Services. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2006.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Maxfield D, Grenny J, McMillan R, Patterson K, Switzler A. Silence kills: the seven crucial conversations for healthcare. American Association of Critical-Care Nurses March. 2005;6.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ingbar J. Organization ethics: Where values and cultures meet. Institute for Global Ethics; 2005: page 5.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Darr K. Ethics in health services management. 5th ed. Baltimore: Health Professions Press, Inc.; 2011.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Cosby KS, Croskerry P. Profiles in patient safety: authority gradients in medical error. Acad Emerg Med. 2004;11(12):1341–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Groupthink. 2015. In: Encyclopedia for Business [Internet]. 2nd.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Chaleff I. The courageous follower: standing up to & for our leaders. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler; 2009.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Bright DF, Richards MP. The academic deanship: individual careers and institutional roles. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 2001.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hylton WS. Prisoner of conscience. GQ. August 1, 2006. Available from:
  12. 12.
    Lacayo R, Ripley A. Persons of the year: the Whistleblowers. Time. 2002 December 30–January 6:30–3.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    McCain J. Why courage matters: the way to a braver life. New York: Random House; 2004.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Patterson K, Grenny J, McMillan R, Switzler A. Crucial confrontations: tools for resolving broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2005.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Patterson K, Grenny J, Maxfield D, McMillan R, Switzler A. Crucial accountability: tools for resolving violated expectations, broken commitments, and bad behavior. 2nd ed. New York: VitalSmarts/McGraw-Hill Education; 2013.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Bell D. Ethical ambition: living a life of meaning and worth. Bloomsbury: New York; 2002.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Melé D. Management ethics: placing ethics at the core of good management. London: Palgrave Macmillan; 2012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Gentile MC. Giving voices to values. 2010. Available from:
  19. 19.
    Thomas M, Strom-Gottfried K. The best of boards: sound governance and leadership for nonprofit organizations. New York: American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Inc.; 2011.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Office of Ethics and Policy, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel HillsChapel HillUSA

Personalised recommendations