Ethical Leadership

by Desmond Berghofer

The leader has always been an essential part of any human community. Fortunes, customs, laws, governance, religion all derive from dominant leadership. Some leadership comes from the sword. All leadership is of the word. Many leaders stand on pinnacles of power. Others work from less lofty platforms. Leadership spans all ages, from children in school to elders at the council table. No gathering is too small or too large to call for leadership. No agenda too onerous or too simple. Wherever people are, there we will find the leaders. Some derive their leadership from office, others from their person, most from their expertise. For leaders must stand apart, at least for a time, and thereby declare they are in charge.

The strength and quality of a society derives from its leadership. The most successful do not require their leaders to be a burning ray, to light innumerable fires of achievement. Such societies may flourish for a while, but like the fires will quickly burn out. When leadership is dispersed in the minds of all the people, that is when bands of steel are forged. For strong leadership is a quality of the whole, commingling in ever changing patterns, and deriving its essential greatness from principles shared at the core.

"The true spark of enlightened leadership
is seen when it ignites our noblest passion
and lights the pathway of the quest for
higher purpose."

History grand and modest has seen it all: communities, groups and nations who have thrown in their lots with a dominant leadership and reaped the harvest or the whirlwind for their choice; vision and foresight energized around a noble ideal or wasted on ill-fated ambition. For human character is a flux of contradictions. It can falter as often as it triumphs. The true spark of enlightened leadership is seen when it ignites our noblest passion and lights the pathway of the quest for higher purpose.

Such then is what we mean to call ethical leadership. It takes the other shining qualities of vision, courage, expertise and determination and gives them the rock solid platform on which to stand. It is leadership that goes beyond the rationality of mind and the warmth of heart to the integrity of soul. It is leadership distilled from the highest moral precepts of the world's great traditions of wisdom and spirituality. At its heart is trust. Its mantle is honesty. Steadfast reliability is its face.

Such leadership commands respect, not just for the content of its policy, but also for the trustworthiness of its action. Ethical leadership always takes the path to justice. It seeks not to distribute favours to a few, but benefits to many, justly earned by the quality of their effort. It keeps commitments and it honours loyalty, when in its judgment effort is in the direction of right action.

"Ethical leaders are strong, generous, full hearted,
trustworthy, resolute and utterly reliable."

Ethical leaders are strong, generous, full-hearted, trustworthy, resolute and utterly reliable. They will not be without error or fault, but they will be honest in the admission of their fault when they have searched in their soul and seen it. They will not seek to dominate, except when they see the core principles of right action are in danger. They will encourage others to come forward when it is their turn to lead. They will seek to guide rather than to direct. Their greatest achievements are made when the people move forward on their own.

Human heritage has bequeathed to citizens of the third millennium many leadership qualities. Of these, four stand out: vision, courage expertise and ethics. All four are important. But only one is essential. Ethical leadership anchors all the rest.