California Physical Therapy: Ethical DecisionsPage 5 of 9

4. The Moral Threshold and Moral Potency

Professional ethics are incumbent only on those individuals who occupy a professional role. Beyond that, each of us has a moral threshold, a bar below which we will not compromise. To compromise below your moral threshold is to compromise your personal integrity (Janoff-Bulman, 2009).

A national study conducted in 2007 found that 77% of the participants either agreed or strongly agreed that there was a lack of confidence in America’s leaders (Rosenthal, 2007). The corporate scandals of the past decade and the response to them are relevant to the non-for-profit healthcare environment as well (Xu & Ma, 2016, Welsh & Ordonez, 2014). Hannah and Avolio (2010) proposed that there is a key element missing from ethical leadership, which they refer to as moral potency. The basis of their work stems from the question: Why do leaders who know what the right ethical decision is fail to take action, even when action is clearly necessary? (Schaubroeck, 2010).

Ethical behavior is not as strongly influenced by judgment as it is by acting on a moral judgment. Hannah, Avolio, and May (2011) define moral potency as “the capacity to generate responsibility, and motivation to take moral action in the face of adversity and to persevere through challenges.”

Moral potency is built on (1) moral ownership, a sense of responsibility to take ethical action when faced with ethical issues; (2) moral efficacy, the beliefs of individuals that they can organize and mobilize to carry out an ethical action; and (3) moral courage, the courage to face threats and overcome fears to act. (Hannah, Avolio, & Walumbwa, 2011; Hannah et al., 2009; Goud, 2005).