Moral character: What it is and what it does.pdf.pdf' (347.6 kB)

Moral character: What it is and what it does

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journal contribution
posted on 01.01.1991 by Taya Cohen, Lily Morse

Moral character can be conceptualized as an individual’s disposition to think, feel, and behave in an ethical versus unethical manner, or as the subset of individual differences relevant to morality. This essay provides an organizing framework for understanding moral character and its relationship to ethical and unethical work behaviors. We present a tripartite model for understanding moral character, with the idea that there are motivational, ability, and identity elements. The motivational element is consideration of others—referring to a disposition toward considering the needs and interests of others, and how one’s own actions affect other people. The ability element is self-regulation—referring to a disposition toward regulating one’s behavior effectively, specifically with reference to behaviors that have positive short-term consequences but negative long-term consequences for oneself or others. The identity element is moral identity—referring to a disposition toward valuing morality and wanting to view oneself as a moral person. After unpacking what moral character is, we turn our attention to what moral character does, with a focus on how it influences unethical behavior, situation selection, and situation creation. Our research indicates that the impact of moral character on work outcomes is significant and consequential, with important implications for research and practice in organizational behavior.