Perplexed? Your Guide to Leadership at the Moral Crossroads

Gloria Feldt
6 min readMay 7, 2024


Issue 258 — May 6, 2024

Leadership lessons come from all kinds of places. Ever since I saw the 1986 movie “Crossroads” (not the later one with Britney Spears!), the metaphor of the crossroads has been in my head.

“A thin line separates the good from the great,” the old bluesman tells young Lightening Boy who is on a quest to find the original “Crossroads” song by the legendary Robert Johnson.

It’s the same for leaders. When tested at the moral crossroads of crisis, conflict, and controversial issues in previous years, saying “the business of business is business” and staying in that lane could insulate a leader from taking a stand.

This is not true today. Employees expect their employers to take positions. They are looking for shared values and clarity about which side of history their employer is on. And sometimes, not surprisingly, there are disagreements as to which side of history is the correct one.

Think about the impact of George Floyd’s murder that resulted in substantial commitments to fund diversity, equity, and inclusion — initiatives now subjected to extreme backlash. The Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade on abortion rights forced companies to take a stand on the previously avoided issue of women’s reproductive health and whether to support travel cost for women who needed to travel out of state to get an abortion.

There is the question of how to develop AI without gender bias and what are its ethical uses in the workplace. Probably the most fraught issue of the moment is the war between Israel and Hamas, following Hamas’s attack on Israel October 7, morphing into the current pro-Palestinian student uprisings on campuses.

What is the obligation of a leader to take a stand personally or for the organization?

This is not easy. I know that for myself, I’ve often felt like the words of “Crossroads Blues” when trying to ascertain how to lead through internal or external crisis of conscience, at the same time keeping the vision and mission of the organization in primary focus:

I went down to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees…
Asked the lord above “Have mercy now
Save poor Bob if you please”

Decisions typically must be made in the heat of the issue without enough time to process all of the nuances thoughtfully. For certain, you know that you will not please all your stakeholders, whether internal employees or external investors, customers, and the general public. But as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

There is a difference between leadership decisions that are internal to the business and require crisis management and those that respond to external social issues such as racism, sexism, and antisemitism. The latter involve responding to social, political, or ethical issues that may impact the company or its stakeholders. They often require navigating complex and divisive topics, such as racism, sexism, and antisemitism, and balancing the interests of various stakeholders while staying true to the organization’s values.

Both types of decisions demand strong leadership and effective communication. However, external leadership decisions can be particularly challenging due to the broader social implications and potential backlash.

The natural tendency to avoid conflict and controversy may seem like a safe bet in the short term, but it often leads to negative consequences in the long run. By staying silent or adopting a neutral stance, leaders may inadvertently send the message that they lack conviction, integrity, or concern for the people involved.

First of all, remember that not to decide is to decide. It is leaving things unsettled and likely to fester, causing a bigger perturbation than the one you are trying to solve.

Now more than ever, leaders are finding themselves at moral crossroads. Photo credit:

Here Are Five Principles for Leaders at the Crossroads:

1. Prioritize empathy and listening to understand the perspectives of stakeholders. That doesn’t mean you are looking for consensus because there might not be one, and ultimately you know where the buck stops. But first, always listen. Encourage employees and stakeholders to share their concerns and listen actively to their feedback. Acknowledge and validate their emotions, even if you cannot change the decision. This demonstrates respect for their perspectives and fosters a more inclusive and engaged environment.

2. Communicate transparently and openly to build trust with employees and customers. While it might seem like a time suck to communicate frequently, bringing people along with you on the journey will always pay off in lowering the temperature of disagreements and building the trust needed to keep people working productively for the mission of the organization regardless of their personal beliefs. Clearly explain the rationale behind the decision and the values that guided it. Acknowledge the differing viewpoints and the complexity of the situation.

3. Align business practices with organizational values to ensure authenticity and integrity. Speak about this at every opportunity. Choosing diverse suppliers to demonstrate real commitment to DEI for example. Or publishing salary ranges to demonstrate a commitment to equal pay.

4. Proactively engage with social issues to contribute positively and drive change. Take the energy of the controversy and let it propel robust and meaningful conversation.

5. Use and share ethical decision-making frameworks to guide choices in morally complex situations. People follow people with a point of view, and respect such leaders even if they don’t agree with them.

Here’s how Delta Air Lines handled the controversial Georgia voting law in 2021: When Georgia passed a controversial voting law that critics argued would limit ballot access, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines faced a moral crossroad. On one hand, speaking out against the law could alienate customers and employees who supported it; on the other hand, staying silent might be perceived as complacency. Ultimately, Delta’s leadership chose to take a stand, publicly calling the law ‘unacceptable’ and advocating for expanded voting rights. While the decision received mixed reactions, it exemplified a willingness to navigate moral crossroads and ultimately prioritize values.

In today’s increasingly polarized and interconnected world, people expect transparency, authenticity, and values-driven leadership. Attempts to avoid taking a stand can damage a company’s reputation, erode trust among employees and stakeholders, and even result in boycotts or public backlash. Taking a stand on social issues can be rewarding in terms of building trust, loyalty, and a positive brand image.

When standing at a moral crossroads, the most effective strategy is to address the issue head-on with empathy, honesty, and a willingness to engage in dialogue.

Do you agree? What examples can you share that will help others in these turbulent times?

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker, a global expert in women’s leadership development and DEI for individuals and companies that want to build gender balance. She is a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Honored as Forbes 50 Over 50, and Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at and Find her @GloriaFeldt on all social media.



Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.