I learned the term moral injury from the medical profession. It refers to the frustrations health care workers face dealing with things that get in the way of helping people, frustrations that often contribute to burnout. Examples include dealing with insurance issues (particularly when prohibited from doing what is best for the patient), liability issues, hospital administration, or patients unwilling to care for themselves.
While the injury may not be ‘moral,’ I do think business leaders deal with similar frustrations, particularly leaders involved in innovation of any kind. For example, wheels on luggage are so commonplace today that it is hard to believe the invention was rejected at every turn when first introduced. People simply don’t understand what is intuitive to the innovator. But it’s easy to imagine the frustration of seeing how wheels on luggage could radically assist the single mother trying to make her way through the airport while pushing a stroller and corralling a toddler. To then be met with luggage company executives declaring nobody would suffer the embarrassment of wheeling their luggage through the airport was a form of moral injury.
Another example of ‘moral’ injury comes from one of the best leaders I’ve personally had the opportunity to work with. He is a master at visioneering in a way that the people he works with own and run with ideas. He’s truly brilliant at working behind the scenes and giving others credit for the company’s success. However, he revealed to me that there are times when he gets frustrated that nobody in the company sees what he does, but he accepts that as part of the role.
Whatever form of moral injury we may face, I think it’s important for leaders to develop the discipline of gratitude, be diligent in their self-care, and have a safe person outside the company with whom they can vent.