Friday, October 28, 2005

Leadership Ethics At The Crossroads

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

According to Warren Bennis and Bert Nanus, “Trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together.” I propose that this is at the heart of why I think that ‘leadership ethics’ is at a crossroads.

Do we have leaders, in Antigua and Barbuda, who are worthy of our trust, fully committed to our interests and who share our values? Do we have leaders who we can trust will pursue goals that make our current conditions better and lead to a brighter and more solid future for our children? Do we have leaders whose activities are firmly rooted in the election promises they make and the expectations they engender from us?

Whether in Antigua or in America... or elsewhere, the truthful answers to those questions are disquieting. An Iraq war that was supposed to be about freeing the world of terrorism has mired that country in debacle after debacle. And the world has suffered directly! You and I pay at the gas pump… because of the Iraq war. Was it about freedom… or was it about control of oil, control of American interests, or payback for threats to a presidential father? In Antigua… the wanton giving-away of the people’s lands to American and Asian ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’… was it about economic development? Or, was it about personal profit? In Antigua… the debacle called Mount St. John… from which lawyers made millions and, according to popular rumor, politicians (on both sides) seemed to have profited financially – directly and indirectly.

Whether in Antigua, America or elsewhere, as a matter of fact, everywhere – ‘leadership ethics’ is at a crossroads.
Bernard M. Bass and Paul Steidlmeier of the Center for Leadership Studies, School of Management at Binghamton University in New York, contend that “The ethics of leadership rests upon three pillars: (1) the moral character of the leader, (2) the ethical values embedded in the leader’s vision, articulation, and program which followers either embrace or reject, and (3) the morality of the processes of social ethical choices and actions that leaders and followers engage in and collectively pursue.” I would argue that of the three pillars that Bass and Steidlmeier identify, the first pillar, “The moral character of the leader” is the most important. It is like a super-pillar on which all other pillars stand. Why? Because in today’s world, even in our so-called democracies, the ‘leader’ is endowed and invested with enormous authority and huge decision-making powers that can impact the lives (and deaths) of thousands of people.

With the stroke of a pen, any one of today’s private or public sector leaders, can impact billions of people around the globe. From President Bush to President Chavez; from Rex Tillerson, president of ExxonMobil Corporation to G. Richard "Rick" Wagoner Jr. President and CEO of General Motors; from Steve Hills, president and general manager of the Washington Post to Tian Congming, president of Xinhua News Agency (China News Agency): They all have the power to influence billions of people – positively and negatively.

And, very few of them, seemed inclined to make decisions that are unequivocally in the best interests of the vast populations they either serve or impact. They seemed more inclined to make decisions which serve themselves and the special interests of a select few… rather than the broad majority. As in America… a la Enron and Global Crossing… As in Antigua… a la Medical Benefit and the so-called Asian Village Project (and many more).We are at a cross roads of ethical leadership because, while much of the world is apparently moving towards a ‘theoretical’ democracy, we are increasingly dependent on individuals who ascend to the throne of global power and authority. And, if recent events in both the private and public sectors can be seen as yard sticks, ‘followers’ (public shareholders and citizen stakeholders) need to be vigilant, cautious and exercise more independence in decision-making. They also need to be less trusting and demand total transparency to spotlight and bring ‘sunshine’ to the process of public and private sector governance.What can leaders do?According to Bass and Steidlmeier “modern western philosophy tacitly assumes that there is no morally valid leadership without the consent of the led.” Therefore, I think that leaders must remember that one of the central tenets of western philosophy, and indeed, democracy is that all ‘all authority emanates from the governed.’Since the weight ethical leadership rests on the central pillar of the ‘moral character of the leader’, modern leaders must also embrace the Confucian notion of the ‘moral sage’ and ‘superior person’. This is similar to Plato’s idea of the ‘philosopher king’ whose wisdom and purity allows him or her to rise above base idealism and personal faults like the greed, favoritism, lust and licentiousness we see in many of our politcal and religious leaders of this age. (Religious? That’s for another post to this blog!)Leaders must privately uphold the values that they publicly espouse whether these are moral, religious or spiritual traditions and customs. And they must do so by focusing on proper and right conduct and behaviors. The leader who goes to church on Sunday and robs his shareholders on Monday is certainly demonstrating an immoral character – no matter what he says publicly. The leader who argues for a pay raise, in addition to a multiple million dollar salary while he is downsizing his workforce, while his company's profits are down and while shareholders are losing money is definitely demonstrating a greedy character. A leader who preys on the vulnerable within his organization (or country) and coerces or lures them into activities that serve his base interests is demonstrating a character ingrained with lust and depravity.

The moral character of a leader is as important as his visionary ideas, his creative decision-making and his strength in motivating people to embrace a ‘shared future’ together.Finally, the western world has promulgated a philosophy where each person is responsible for himself, and every individual pursues his or her own self interest. Seemingly, based on the constant stream of negative examples, today’s leaders have passionately embraced this individualism to the exclusion of a leaders commitment to and resposnibility to his 'followers'. This needs to change.According to Rawls (1971) the legitimacy of leadership depends on granting the same liberty and opportunity to others that one claims for oneself. The legitimacy of leadership, in America or in Antigua, rests on telling the truth, keeping promises, distributing to each what is due, and employing valid incentives or sanctions. The legitimacy of leadership rests on developing a vision to make life better for the ‘followers’ and employing all resources into activities that fulfill that vision: Activities that serve even the poor, the sick, the unemployed, the under-educated, the young and the old; Activities that particularly serve those who are least able now… and who need a hand up… or a hand-out; Activities that stimulate the most able to help up… and help out the least able; Activities that serve members, followers, critics, and opposers alike!

Leaders who follow these principles recognize not only the pluralism of values and diversity of motivations among their ‘followers’, but also recognize that he or she exists (in their mantle of leadership) solely to serve the interests of their public shareholders or citizen stakeholders… and not their own.

Leadership is an exercise in the highest form of service: To others!

In Antigua… ‘leadership ethics’ is at a crossroads. Will the Sunshine Government turn aside or turn back to the corruption of the past? Or will it hold true and walk through the difficult roads ahead while keeping to the straight and narrow.

Can we trust that this Government will stay the course and demonstrate high moral character? How can we tell? Let’s not forget the “Agenda for Change!” Remember these words? Whistle blower protection! Integrity will be our bedrock! Transparency and accountability will be our watchwords! The Government will be the servants of the people… that is our commitment! The people’s purpose will always come first!
A people centered agenda!

If we keep the sunlight focused on the above commitments, it will be easy to tell whether or not our leadership has turned aside, turned back or is forging ahead. They are at an ethical crossroads of leadership… and for some it seems as though it is hard not to look back… or at least sideways… And they are signs that some are beginning to slip side-ways into the tempting shadows…

Let’s keep them focused… let’s help them to look straight ahead… Let’s keep the spotlight right above them.

Let’s keep the Sunshine Government in the sunshine!