The Successful Manager and the Moral Core

by Wallace Henley

Una giovane stagista e il suo tutor in un momento di formazioneA business or any other type of enterprise may have a host of willing workers, but if there’s no one to lead, resources are going to be wasted and desired outcomes will be missed. The most successful manager is the one who leads rather than the manager who merely controls. We can say that management is the art of linking work, people and material resources to achieve measurable successful outcomes from tasks performed.

The most successful managers are those who function as a whole person. The person is comprised of body, soul and spirit. The body is the dimension of contact with the external, material world. The soul consists of the will, the mind, and the emotions, and is the level of self-awareness. The spirit is that part of a human being that touches the higher reality beyond the material world, that which many people would consider the spiritual realm. It is the moral core of the human being.

For morality to be positive, it must go beyond the individual and his or her desires, and take into account the needs of others. Otherwise, the person will be self-centered, believing that other people can and should be manipulated to satisfy whatever the individual wants.

Successful managers understand intuitively the importance of centricity. “Things fall apart,” wrote the poet, Yeats. Entropy operates not only in nature, but with respect to organizations. If there is not a strong center providing cohesion and coherence, businesses, institutions, their departments and sub-units fall into decay, deterioration, disintegration and death, which, for an organization, is the loss of function and effectiveness.

Stephen Covey also recognizes the threat of entropy to business and institutions, and the importance of the moral core in resisting. “To the degree people recognize and live in harmony with such basic principles as fairness, equity, justice, integrity, honesty, and trust, they move toward either survival and stability on the one hand or disintegration and destruction on the other,” he writes in Principle-Centered Leadership.

Being centered on the moral core means several things.

  • The successful manager is a principled person. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said that “(i)f you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” The principled manager will stand on his or her core convictions. Though there will be much pressure to compromise the truth or other aspects of moral behavior, such a manager is steadfast and firm. This doesn’t mean the principled manager isn’t flexible. However, he or she will know the points at which compromise is appropriate. Employees can rest in the fact that such a manager won’t “sell them out.”
  • Employees know they can trust such a manager, and will be more likely to follow him or her. People are more willing to follow those leaders they know they can trust. Winston Churchill was such a leader. He was labeled a warmonger and dangerous. But he stayed by his principles. Ultimately, when, as Prime Minister, he told the British people, “all I have to offer is blood, sweat and tears,” they believed him and followed him all the way through to victory—at huge sacrifice.
  • People follow such a manager because of respect more than force. John T. Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, Inc., says “creating a culture of leadership that people like is key.” A manager-controller must force his or her employees to follow. People follow a manager-leader out of respect. Manager-Controllers seek to drive people through manipulation, intimidation, condemnation and domination. Manager-Leaders lead people through modeling-mentoring, respect-loyalty, positive firmness and decisiveness.
  • The department or work unit will take on the personality of the manager. Employees will have their own moral core, and many will operate positively from it on their own. These are the people who are self-starters and are not easily swayed by their peers to lower their standards. If such an employee’s manager does not take his or her moral core seriously, that worker will be an isolated, lonely island in a sea of discord and conflict. However, if the manager is a principle-driven person, he or she will reinforce the positive values present in others, and the tone of the department will be positive and productive.

Taking seriously the moral core means integrating it into the personality through thought and reflection. The successful manager considers his or her principles when making management decisions and leading employees. The integration of principle and action that enables managers to be sensitive to “higher order” needs happens in the self-conscious dimension of the individual manager.

“Soul” comes from the Greek word, psyche, which refers to the inner person, the seat of personality. This is the facet of the human being that has the function of self-awareness. There are three aspects of the psyche: mind, emotion and will.

  • Successful managers use their mind to reflect on the principles at the moral core, and this keeps them from being reactive. A manager who doesn’t reflect on principles before acting speaks and acts in ways for which he or she may later have to apologize.
  • Successful managers stabilize their emotions on the basis of the principles at the moral core. Because they integrate their positive beliefs with their personality, they do not let anger or other emotions dictate their responses to employees.
  • Successful managers choose with their will the best responses and actions. The will is the “trigger” that releases action. What a person chooses is what he or she will do. When a manager integrates the moral core with his or her personality, the will selects the proper course of action.

The physical, “outward” person is the vehicle for expressing what is inside. Successful managers operate as whole people. They integrate their moral core with their personality, and express the positive result through their outward person. The successful manager is a principle-driven leader who acts out his or her moral beliefs at the core of their being.


Wallace Henley is the co-author of the new book, God and Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope for Ours. This is a book he co-authored with the great-grandson of Winston Churchill, Jonathan Sandys. Wallace is senior associate pastor of Houston’s Second Baptist Church and is also the author of Globequake. Henley’s insight and wisdom have come through a career of more than 40 years that has included service in the Church, the White House, the U.S. Congress, and Academia.