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Seven key principles for becoming a moral leader

'With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We as parents are their most important role models," US First Lady Michelle Obama declared at the Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia last month. In a powerful speech, she reminded us all of the responsibility we have to future generations.

It's true. Every leader, whether parent or president, must be a role model. But in order to do that and become moral leaders, first we must be truly aware of ourselves, our roles and responsibilities, knowledge and capabilities.

What are our preferences on particular issues? What are our beliefs regarding ethical and spiritual practices? What are our unique capabilities? If we truly know ourselves, we will be able to assess our ability to handle any assignment and use that power to complete it successfully.

The moral leader also needs to know the causes behind an issue and to firmly uphold principles. This second principle is based on the fact that an effective leader will not easily believe and accept anything. He or she will study an issue in reference to their own rational framework and try to find the logic.

Somruedee Chaimongkol, chief executive of the Thai energy company Banpu Plc, is a fine example in this regard. She once said to me: "At Banpu we are familiar with values-based management, which we've been practising since 2001. I also prefer principle-based and streamlined communication, which is quite effective."

The third principle is the ability to foresee results. Moral leaders know both the purpose and consequences of what they are doing. They are proactive when it comes to implementing previously agreed plans in order to achieve the ultimate goal. Shared vision plays a crucial role in this area.

"Besides the ability to foresee future opportunities, the leader must have a strong commitment and intention to achieve the business plan as well," Anurat Tiamtan, the chairperson of Tipco Asphalt Plc, once said to me.

Knowing how to be temperate is vital not only for moral leadership but for general management as well. Moral leaders push for business performance only to the point that it is necessary to the organisation. They also behave moderately and consume products and services only as needed. This is how the concept of sustainability has evolved.

Sasitorn Phongsathorn, the president of Land and Houses Bank Plc (LH Bank), once elaborated in an interview I had with her: "I consider myself an ordinary person and so do my team members. We are not superstars. We are providing ordinary people with choices of financial services."

The fifth guideline relates to knowing how to manage time. Leaders have to carefully and effectively evaluate the scope of work and also the time required. The best approach is to adopt a regular and steady pace of work to deliver the output as promised. Choosing the right time for work to be done is also essential since everything has its own pace.

Human beings are social animals. Understanding people is essential for moral leaders since they need to take care of and serve the people around them. It is vital to moral leaders to behave according to proper social etiquette.

As the old saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". Respect and compassion are critical elements of this sixth principle. When one bends towards others and tries one's best to understand and serve others' interests, the result will be highly rewarding.

Suchada Ithijarukul, the president of Siam Makro Plc, once told me: "Asking 'Is it fair to all concerned?' and 'Will it be beneficial to everyone?' helps us to decide if our activities are well suited to Thai society. This means carefully focusing our CSR (corporate social responsibility) programme on our retail group of customers."

Last but not least, if one aspires to lead others morally, one must understand individuals and their differences. To truly understand the people around you, you need to spend time getting to know them with a compassionate mindset.

This will help you to learn who the key players in your organisation are, and who needs to improve or change their behaviour in order to increase team performance.

Khunying Jada Wattanasiritham, one of the country's leading businesswomen, once told me: "I have no desire to order people to do things based only on my opinion. I prefer to listen first in order to understand them clearly."

To celebrate Mother's Day tomorrow, I dedicate this article to all mothers who devote their time to supporting their children, and to those who also support their subordinates and colleagues in the organisations they manage, as the female leaders quoted in this article have done in their distinguished careers.

Let's remind ourselves of all the good intentions our mothers have always had for us and celebrate Mother's Day by offering our best wishes to all of them.

Sorayuth Vathanavisuth is principal and executive coach at the Center for Southeast Asia Leadership and lectures at Mahidol University's College of Management. His areas of interest are corporate strategy, executive coaching and leadership development. He can be reached at