Harvey's Question: "The Just and Moral Leader"
My mentor, Harvey, posed this question: “Who is a just and moral leader?” Too bad we didn’t have all day to discuss it but, that night, I couldn’t get the question out of my head so I decided to write Harvey a message. It’s probably too big for one blog so I’ll make it a series. Aside from a few edits, here is what I wrote:
After an hour discussion, I suppose we could come to a conclusion that institutionally-sanctioned leadership almost inevitably diminishes the just and moral leader's capacity to remain so. We may very well be able to argue that it is impossible to be "authentically" just and moral as an institutionally-sanctioned leader. Interestingly, if we look at leaders like Mandela, Walesa, Havel and Ramos-Horta (East Timor), their power was derived from their success when they were "outsiders." They led the opposition against leaders and their corrupted power structures. Only after the defeat of those people in power did these folks gain the top political leadership positions in their countries. Some remained true to their passion of empowering the powerless but we can find some good examples of leaders whose just and moral judgment was diminished by the corruptive influences in their midst upon the very moment that they attained such power. I don't remember much about Walesa after he became president but didn't he eventually become ineffective due to a rather unscrupulous administration? And what about the leader of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, with the two candidates whose names were almost identical? Then, just as soon as the one leader was elected (the one that was poisoned), didn't he prove to be as corrupt as the system he was fighting? That last commentary definitely needs some fact checking.
Before I get to my incomplete and ever-growing list, it helps me to think not of the words “just” and “moral” but of “justice” and “morality” for some reason that I cannot quite rationally explain. I suppose it is because a “just person” does not resonate with me as well as “person committed to justice” does. In a similar way, the word morality just seems more descriptive. A phrase like “a person who appeals to morality” tells me that this is a practice, a process, a journey. A “moral person” makes me feel so inadequate, as if that person has achieved that impenetrable state of perfection, incapable of erring. I suppose that I need to believe that the just and moral leader has not yet and never will arrive at a state of being completely just and moral but the realization of that compels such a leader to try that much harder to serve others with the sincere desire to act justly and strive for the highest moral ideals in leadership. I invoke the word “values” in such contemplations, especially if I can discuss shared values with someone who may disagree with me on issues. If we can agree upon some shared values, it seems that we can be more respectful to one another in our discourse.
So, just looking at a political leadership example, here is what it would look like for me (and no, I do not expect this to ever be practiced by anyone) to establish the best possible conditions for a leader to be and remain committed to the ideals of justice and morality. This list is definitely a brainstorming of thoughts since it is offered and in the exactly as these ideals hit me:
Wealth- the leader's wealth should be transparent and remain no greater on the day (an every day thereafter) that leader leaves office than the day he/she takes office. This would require whatever earnings above and beyond the compensation for this leader's work to be given away. Book deals, speaker fees, etc. would all be included. I think a reasonable pension is fair and a cost of living percentage increase in one's net worth is allowable. A just and moral leader would volunteer to publish tax returns and all schedules, disclose details of all family financial dealings and offer any other information to make transactions as transparent as possible.
Empowerment of others- There must be, at every level of administration, an intention to empower the most able-minded individuals, regardless of party affiliation or non-affiliation, to address and actively seek to eradicate the root problems of poverty, racism, sexism, ageism...all the isms! This requires marginalized people to not only have a voice in the conversation, but an active, influential place at the table of ideas to establish policy and practice.
Campaign support- the just and moral leader cannot and will not accept contributions in excess of $200 (arbitrary) from any single source. Period.
Gifts- the just and moral leader will not accept personal gifts from anyone in excess of $200 (again, arbitrary). This includes family, friends, associates, etc. This includes vacation homes, meals, etc.
Accessibility- for any meeting or substantial interaction with a person or organization of status or power, the just and moral leader provides at least as much if not more access to the powerless. Individuals and organizations with no resources are as valued as the most prominent CEOs, political leaders, media, etc.
I think that’s enough for today. The rest will come another day......
AUTHOR: Thomas Conner
Thomas Conner is the co-founder, president and chief financial officer of Sitemason, a hosted, supported alternative to Wordpress and Drupal, built for agencies, freelance designers and developers.