Saturday, January 1, 2011

Leadership from Within

The challenges we face today means that leadership today must be chiefly concerned with serving society - rather than merely advancing their own ideas, ambitions or sense of privilege. One way of helping leaders understand the true purpose of leadership is to help them connect to their inner-self – look within for inspiration to serve in the outside world.
To speak of "ethical leadership" in today's world seems a contradiction in terms. Almost every day, headlines tell of the disgrace, downfall, imprisonment or forced resignation of a political, corporate, religious, or community leader somewhere around the world.
The long arm of corruption reaches every faction of humanity, from the individual to the societal level, with devastating consequences. Corruption not only affects growth and investment, but also influences the norms and moral standards of societies. It is well recognized as a pervasive phenomenon that can seriously jeopardize the best-intentioned reform efforts and impair the long-term prospects of a country. Combating corruption requires strong institutions characterized by clear and transparent rules, fully functioning checks and balances - including strong enforcement mechanisms and a robust competitive environment - and most importantly, the grooming of ethical leaders who ensure the strengthening and sustainability of libertarian institutions.
Of these corruption-combating methods, the most crucial and perhaps the least understood is ethical leadership. Without the example of ethical leadership enacted with integrity, there is no model for society to follow or to which to be held accountable. But one ethical leader standing alone does not have much leverage unless he/she is also “a connective leader”. Because a connective leader is skilled at building a network of ennobled, entrusted, and empowered constituents and is motivated by an ethical core, the connective leader can be a very powerful conduit of change.
But ethically-motivated connective leadership is rare. Conventional leadership development programs focus on the external aspects of leadership – e.g., how to run effective meetings, how to gather a following, how to motivate people to do what the leader wants. Instructing leaders on how to be a connective leader requires a high level of self-knowledge, or even spiritual inputs (different from religious or moral inputs; rather a focus on enabling the participant to have a better look at one’s own self, free of stress and anxieties) and interpersonal skills on the leader’s part – none of which are easy to teach. But training leaders to act from an ethical core is that much more challenging, if not impossible some might say, because of the deeply personal nature of ethics. However, there is anecdotal evidence to show that the returns of such training can have a lasting beneficial impact on the society in general, and against corruption in particular.
Ultimately, the fight against corruption comes down to the conviction to do so, born out of the ethical essence of the individual leader. It is the convictions, personal motivations, and underlying beliefs that drive the actions of leaders. “Leadership is intensely individual and personal” (Burns, 1978, p. 33). If the values of a leader are developed in childhood (Burns, 1978), then can any leadership development program have an effect on the ethical definitions and actions of both current and future leaders?
It leads us to the question of whether leadership can be developed or is an innate trait that cannot be developed. However, if we operate from the hypothesis that given the choice, many “responsible” leaders would choose to act from their highest values, then helping leaders connect back into their ethical core is perhaps the key. In other words, leadership development from the “inside out” rather than the “outside in,” or the development of the “inner” leader. More on this soon...

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