Do we really need "morality" in leadership? (A close insight on moral leadership)

As the third president of the independent state of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki's leadership was dubbed as a turning point for the Kenyan republic. His term as the country's leader represented the consolidation of democracy and a momentous "shift in Kenyan's perception of leadership and governance". His low-key style of presidency and his decision to avoid elaborate glorification and spectacle signified his ability to stay focused on his priorities as a leader of the nation, rather than on the formation of a superficial, self-absorbed "personality cult".

 

"Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed."

 

These words, uttered by Kibaki himself, explicitly portray what Kibaki believed to be the real essence of leadership. In a world with constant development and growth, a rapid rise of brand new ideas and beliefs, and observable shifts in every corner of the world, leaders are called on to facilitate this ongoing process of change as they guide masses towards a specific goal. A leader's raw purpose is selfless - it is not for personal benefit that they are placed in such a respectable position, but it is on behalf of the followers and the interest of the many. President Kibaki was a recognised leader not purely because of his popularity within his country. His extraordinary leadership is accredited to his intentions to fulfil his responsibilities as an ambassador for the people, not to satisfy his own selfish desires.

 

Such is the very basic definition of moral leadership. Moral leadership chooses the path of nobility and right-mindedness as a method of leading. Moral leadership chooses not to compromise ethical values for quick and efficient results, nor exploits one's privileges to abuse others or strengthen one's own status. Moral leaders are clothed with high principles and earn honour through integrity and humility.

 

The key to a deeper understanding of the concept of moral leadership is to firstly grasp the real meaning of two key ideas: morality and leadership. Jane Rule describes morality "like language.....an invented structure for conserving and communicating order". Morality extends from the simple discernment of good from evil. In normal circumstances, morality is often associated as the choice to do right with fairness and respect of others in consideration. A world without morality compromises social order as personal benefits would take precedence over ethics and values. The practice of morals is not only important in leadership, but in everyday life also.

 

 Leadership is an interesting concept with varying interpretations. Often, leadership is but an empty name or an inherited privilege. But former US President Eisenhower once said, "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." Notice how he describes the leader as someone who persuades another to perform adequately, rather than to forcefully demand them to follow with reluctance. This is because leadership is more than the superior title or the appointed authority, as it is the ability to compel followers to act upon a certain goal. Leadership involves a vision being translated into reality. A good leader uses powerful charisma and a firm will to effectively knit the whole team unit together and lead the way to progress and, eventually, successful outcomes. The competence of a leader is measured through influence and overall results.

 

What defines moral leadership from immoral leadership is the leader's purpose and methods. A moral leader places less importance on self, but commits fully towards one's followers and the broader, greater picture of achieving success for all. A moral leader's methods of attaining a goal does not step away from society's ethics and values - the leader does not compromise morals for efficiency. A moral leader takes pride in embracing "good" over "evil", and is characterised with features such as honesty, reliability, and uprightness. On the other hand, the immoral leader represents selfishness and greed, and is willing to commit to whatever means necessary for success and quick results - including unethical, abusive actions. An immoral leader ignores propriety and delves into objectionable and inequitable methods and behaviours. The leader may take wrongful pride on oneself and the power vested in him as a prominent leader, boasting their image over the cause and the people. While the moral leader is constructive, the immoral leader is threatening and disruptive.

 

But the real issue one could pose to the world's leaders today is: could a leader be an 'good' leader, while also be an immoral one? The answer - to the surprise and the demise of many - is yes. In its purest form, leadership is focused on the wider cause, each guided step with the intent to advance the followers and ultimately, the community as a whole. However, expectations, desires, and human ambition often cloud this immaculate figure of a leader, often replaced with self-serving virulence. Hence, as one might assume that morality is an antecedent feature of good leadership, morality and leadership are in fact two distinct concepts, thereby suggesting that the strength of a leader is not necessarily measured by morality and virtuousness.

 

How could it be possible to disregard proper ethics while still be an effective leader? No doubt, a leader without ethics could still be accounted for as a good leader. A good leader refers to one who possesses the ability to fulfil aims, solve problems, and plan accordingly to maintain the efficiency of the entire unit. Peter Ducker - well-renowned business pioneer - once said: "Leadership is defined by results not attributes". Thus, it can be concluded that what defines a man does not necessarily define a leader. While a man may be defined by his character, a leader is defined by his power to influence, inspire, and achieve results.

 

If such was untrue, and the term "good leadership" would automatically coincide with "moral leadership", our history books would neglect to highlight the rise of prominent leaders such as the infamous Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. Throwing conventional bias and negativity aside, Hitler displayed what was expected of a good and effective leader in several aspects. He had a clear vision for the future of Germany -  a third Reich - which he dedicated his whole life into fulfilling. One could argue that his hard work and his full commitment to this end goal highlights courage and perseverance one finds in a true leader. As an effective leader does, Hitler acknowledged the faults and inefficiencies within the Nazi party and formulated a strategy to combat it. He was meticulous, with an eye for detail and perfection. Fuhrerprinzip was Hitler's method of avoiding unneeded conflict and time-consuming arguments which could quite possibly crumble the unity of the party apart. By acknowledging the undoubted and absolute authority of the Fuhrer, it led to the simplification of decision-making and the mending of interior clashes within the party by having a common, strong-willed leader to obey and revere. He was a brilliant orator, a persuasive speaker who drew thousands into his cause. In fact, his irresistible charm and strong influence led most Germans to follow the Nazi ideologies and regimes willingly. All this success achieved despite the knowledge we now know in hindsight that the Third Reich incorporated the merciless genocide of other races to uphold the magnificent Aryan Race, and his tyrannous dictatorship with an unforgiving and rather threatening demeanour towards his staff. One would not be wise to assume that despite Hitler's maniac reputation, he displayed a character of good leadership during his time as an aggressive leader in the 1930s.

 

However, the importance of morality in leadership is showcased. The main difference between moral leadership and immoral leadership is its sustainability. As a leader, Hitler was impeccable. His charisma offered Germany a future too good to refuse, and his undying effort to attain success is incomparable. Still, immorality encouraged more selfish ambitions.  As Hitler utilised immoral behaviour to reach successes during his leadership, very gradually this escalated into self-serving deeds. For example, the established practice of Fuhrerprinzip grew from an organised distribution of power to the beginning of greed and the thirst for more and more control. His insistence of personal control despite his often failures and stubbornness was merely put forward for the sake of gratifying his own, considering less the greater picture of his cause or his people. He began threatening staff members verbally and physically, becoming impatient with every err due to his perfectionist nature. Such did him no good - as a result he began to lead carelessly and with fearful advocates who perceived him more as a threat than an ambassador. The world knows how Hitler's reign ended, his leadership style and his inconsiderate motives were doomed from the beginning.

 

One can begin to decipher the role morality has on leadership. While a leader may still perform sufficiently without ethics and values, their time as the head figure will be short lived. Immoral leadership causes one to drift their focus away from the main destination, and begin to focus on self-gratification and popularity. Immorality, as a separate concept, breaks moral and social order causing chaos, while leaders are ironically needed to avert chaos and disarray at times of change. Thus, immoral leadership is counter-productive and could lead to an eventual backfire and ultimate failure. Immoral leadership causes mistrust, greed, and careless judgements. Hitler's rule ended after 9 years, and in that short time period he obtained the most unwanted and malicious reputation. On the other hand, his counterpart Mwai Kibaki was not only Vice President for a decade, but was a successful political leader who served from 2002 to 2013, and to this day he continues to be acknowledged as one of Kenya's most prominent figureheads.

 

Leadership does not rely on ethical methods to be great - however, it needs ethics and morality to be effective. For successful yet limited results, leadership does not rely on ethical boundaries. But our world strongly relies on moral leadership. We need stronger, highly-principled, noble leaders in our world today. We must uphold leaders who not only do their role in an efficient and strategic manner, but who also show compassion and consideration for the greater good. Moral leadership is often not recognised today as many leaders could argue that such would be a hindrance to success, thereby dubbing moral leadership as an oxymoron. But the essence of leadership is, as Kibaki told, is for the betterment of others. And how could a leader present "betterment" with wrongful and unjustified methods? Hence, we find that indeed moral leadership is selfless, considerate, and overall the only effective and sustainable style of leadership.

 

Name: Kyra MaquisoSchool: Avondale College, Auckland NZ
Level: High school student (17 years old)

Views: 6146

Tags: #leadershipcontest, contest, leadership, moral

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