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Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Celia Moore gave her inaugural lecture at Imperial College London on 15 June

Professor Celia Moore, who heads up Imperial College Business School’s Centre for Responsible Leadership, examined how organisations unintentionally encourage morally problematic behaviour in her Imperial Inaugural “Leading Responsibly: Moral Agency at Work”.

Her lecture focused on why we find taking responsibility for our actions so difficult, why it is important leaders demonstrate responsible behaviour and how irresponsible decision making can affect subordinates, peers and organisations.

For most of her academic career, Professor Moore has studied how people understand the moral implications of their actions, and how these understandings then lead to better – or worse – moral decisions. Drawing on some of her early research, she discussed the problem that cheating – and getting away with it – feels good.

“Most of us want to find out how we can have our cake and eat it too,” she said. “If you cheat, and get away with it, you are put in a good mood, and your negative mood does not increase at all. It was previously believed people felt guilty about getting away with cheating."

Professor Moore then went on to explore how this dilemma affects those in leadership, as well as the people and organisations for which they are responsible. As a recent example of political leaders behaving badly, she looked to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his rhetoric around the parties scandal.

If you cheat, and get away with it, you are put in a good mood, and your negative mood does not increase at all

"These cognitive shenanigans are what allow us to throw our moral agency out the window," she said, adding this is “exactly” what an irresponsible leader does.

She went on to look at what can be done to ensure leaders behave well, discussing the importance of structure. As part of a research project, she discovered the benefits of a "buddy" scheme, which enables employees to go to a colleague if they encounter morally problematic behaviour. 

Professor Moore has previously stressed the inevitability of encountering morally complex decisions at work. She believes how well we think through and execute these decisions defines our legacy as humans, and notes it can mean life or death for those affected by them.

Prior to joining Imperial, Professor Moore held positions at Bocconi University in Milan and London Business School, where she was a faculty member for nine years. She has also been a visiting scholar at Harvard Business School and a Fellow of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.  

Her teaching sits at the intersection of leadership and ethics and she is particularly interested in supporting individuals to enact their moral agency responsibly. She has worked with the Financial Conduct Authority, Financial Services Culture Board, the UK National Health Service and the Brookings Institute, as well as several major financial institutions. 

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About Evie Burrows-Taylor

Evie is Web Content Editor for the Institutional Marketing & Communications team. She is responsible for developing the School's faculty and research communications, working to amplify the School's intellectual leadership to a wide variety of international audiences. She also works on IB Knowledge and the School's news and events coverage.