We see moral courage as the single most important attribute that social change leaders can possess. Moral courage is the commitment to act upon one’s values regardless of the difficulty or personal cost. It inspires the conviction to take action with the clarity to remain constant in goals but flexible in method. Moral courage is a mindset that centers the internal conditions needed to make the courageous choice visible and to instill the confidence that it’s possible.

Equally, moral courage is the determination and resilience required to try and fail as you attempt to address some of society’s biggest inequities—to stumble and get back up again. It is to persist when everything is falling apart around you, to endure the trials of the arena not just for months or years but, often, for a lifetime.

Moral courage, we believe, is not something you are born with—it must be cultivated and developed. Through our work, we have seen practices that help to identify, foster, direct, and sustain this courage. The Aspen leadership programs and fellowships take participants through an intensive two-year process that aims to help leaders awaken and clarify their values, elevate their moral courage, and channel their leadership toward solving our greatest challenges. We have seen leaders go through that journey and emerge stronger, more effective, and more resourceful in their pursuit of social change. The process is rooted in transformation of self, and in turn, creates ripples that transform the communities, organizations, and systems in which they lead and live.

We believe that anyone—and everyone—can cultivate moral courage. It is a practice; a disciplined “workout of moral muscles” that gets stronger with use. No matter where you operate within the ecosystem of social change, these practices can help you lead well and justly. It is the work of all of us to reimagine and rebuild systems in ways that prioritize our shared humanity and the sustainability of our planet and communities, and it begins with a few fundamental practices to step up and step into this work:

  1. Practice Self-Awareness
  2. Examine, Sharpen, and Clarify Core Values in Dialogue With Others
  3. Create Systems of Trust and Nourishment

Read the full article about leadership in social change circles by Jacqueline Novogratz and Anne Welsh McNulty at Stanford Social Innovation Review.