As I fly back to the Cape my thoughts turn to leadership and to some of the goings on in the Southern tip of our continent at present. When people talk about leadership, I have noticed a tendency toward “half-fullness.”
The word tends to get people to lean toward the positives and toward those people that stand out as leaders, due to their positive impact and legacy. Political, business, sporting, humanitarian, economic, examples are listed. People who have changed the world for the good.
Names come to mind of innovators, people who averted disasters, those who built nations, who changed the way we think and the way in which we approach life and all those who, even under extreme duress, lead people to the best possible outcome.
Leadership in this context is an ideal.
The behaviour we see from those leaders who we look up to and who inspire us to emulate their examples. Thanks to the strength of these role models, we live with the hope that there are more to come. We could even be so inspired as to take up the leadership role that is missing in a particular situation ourselves, as we know how important a role it is.
I pulled out an old CD of mine recently that I must say has been relegated to the back of the pile of the ones I still possess. Pink Floyd’s “The Final Cut”. In one of the tracks, this line can be heard – “How do they expect us to treat them with any respect?” And herein lies the bulk of my reflection.
When we deal with the impact of not-so-ideal leadership and we see the negative impact this has on millions of lives, then what? How are we supposed to react to those who, when entrusted with the role of leading, fulfill the role in ways which are contrary to the greater good.
What can we do?
Especially when people once elected do everything they can to manipulate the system to do whatever they wish, even when it displeases the masses and contravenes laws.
When the day comes when another Nelson Mandela fulfills the position and the hope we carry manifests in this person living up to the ideal, then what happens to those who did wrong, broke laws and were a burden to the people they were supposed to have served?
Immunity, a negotiated settlement to step down, a golden handshake, safe passage, the promise to avoid prosecution? Why? “How do they expect that we would treat them with any such respect?” And while they go about their dealings with scant disregard, should we stand in their presence, make way for their motorcades, address them with lofty titles?
We have seen that right behaviour requires a conscience. A conscience acting as a guide. A guide between appropriate and inappropriate. Between legal and illegal. Between constitutional and not. Between good or harmful for people at large. Between a positive impact on the economy and destroying it.
Leadership has an effect on the people subjected to it. Whether in a small company, a large company, a small country or a large country. Everyone under the leader feels the impact of the quality of the leadership directly.
Conscience is impacted by consequence.
We can see this with drunken driving, with speeding and even with not doing what we commit to do in the working environment. No threat of negative consequence and people can do what they please, even when what they please falls outside of the accepted boundaries.
When there is the understanding that the way leaders, who willingly harm the well-being of the masses, will be held fully accountable then there is a greater possibility that they will listen to their consciences and align their behaviour accordingly. The likelihood of soft settlements increases the likelihood of them going soft on conscience.
They should know that when the true essence of leadership steps back in that they will not be treated with any respect and be allowed to retire pleasantly somewhere.
They must feel that they will be subjected to the full force of the law and if that means a jail sentence without special treatment, then so be it.
Just one thing – the threat of this must be so real, that behaving contrary to the ideals we have and contrary to the examples we so eagerly quote when talking leadership, that it will keep them honest and aligned with best practices.
I, in particular, want to know two things. Systems of accountability that uphold the law, and that future leaders will be guided by their consciences as developed throughout their formative years, entrenched in a culture where the mechanisms of consequence work.
Live with integrity.
Lead with integrity.
Treat others with integrity.
Treat the planet with integrity.
Treat animals with integrity.
Hold people accountable with integrity.
Vote with integrity.
The best definition I ever heard for integrity is – when what you say, do, think and feel is in alignment with your conscience.
You may ask – what if someone does not have a conscience?
A conscience knows the difference between right and wrong. When you know what you are doing is wrong, you go about it in such a way as to avoid getting caught. In these cases, I feel there is a conscience. The people are just choosing to ignore it.
When people choose to ignore conscience, and do it any way then “How do they expect us to treat them with any respect?” More so when they do it over and over and over.
By Louis Gerke
Development Facilitator – The Ripple Effect
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