Integrity is the fulcrum upon which ethical leadership rests
1. Introduction and context
The challenge of ethical leadership has become an issue for all spheres of society. Newspaper headlines and the social media scream daily about sports stars caught doping, politicians found guilty of corruption, journalists fired for fabricating stories, academics exposed for plagiarism, sports teams involved in match fixing, corporates mired in bribery scandals and cultural icons shown up as sex pests.
The amazing leadership team at The Seed SA has asked me to talk about the vexed question of ethical leadership, I do not do so because I think I’m better than the next person, but I do so because I think, it is the right thing to do for all of us who are in positions of leadership. I also do so because I would truly wish that young leaders in South Africa, and throughout our beloved Continent, pursue a path of ethical leadership.
In the words of Dr Reuel Khoza, in his seminal book, Attuned Leadership, “ Ethics form the capstone of the pyramid in any organisation that aims to make a contribution to society”. Dr Khoza, who graced us with his presence today, who shared much of his wisdom with us earlier, argues that the principle of ethical leadership apply across the board, whether one is referring to a government, an enterprise, an activist body, a church or a neighbourhood association. He concludes that there is no true leadership without service to the community and there is no interest greater than the common interest –certainly not narrow self-interest.
This conversation then is about your roles and your responsibility to live and lead ethically, regardless of which sphere of society you come from. As we progress our conversation, I urge you to resist the temptation to look at “them”, but to reflect on “ yourself” or your “organisation”; I also urge you to avoid the unfortunate tendency to compare which areas or countries or regions are more corrupt than others, or whether corruption was higher before than now –our focus must be to make ethical living and leading a way of life, regardless of which organisation, business, area of government, region or political party one belongs to.
I hope this conversation will create awareness, challenge conventional wisdoms, test your own assumptions and create opportunities for self-reflection. On my part I seek to talk to you as young leaders and aspirant leaders ready to take on a leadership role in a manner that provides guidance, offers counselling and advice about the treacherous waters ahead on your leadership journey.
Although our conversation is taking place in South Africa, I hope its resonance will be broader, to the rest of our beloved continent and indeed to other young leaders throughout the world. The cases used, the examples illustrated are not meant to pass judgement, that is not my duty nor aim, they are meant to alert you to teachable moments, they are meant to put yourselves in the position that others have found themselves. Through such cases, I hope you can answer the question, what would you have done differently, could you find yourself in the same position, can you learn from the case.
As you reach for judgment about any of these cases, the words of Nelson Mandela must give you guidance to learn about each case, and not simply condemn the people involved, society will give its judgment …
” In real life we deal, not with gods, but with ordinary humans like ourselves: men and women who are full of contradictions, who are stable and fickle, strong and weak, famous and infamous, people in whose bloodstream the muckworm battles daily with potent pesticides. On which aspect one concentrates in judging others will depend on the character of the particular judge. As we judge others so we are judged by others. The suspicious will always be tormented by suspicion; the credulous will ever be ready to lap up everything from oo thobela sikutyele, while the vindictive will use the sharp axe instead of the soft feather duster. But the realist, however shocked and disappointed by the frailties of those he adores, will look at human behavior from all sides and objectively and will concentrate on those qualities in a person which are edifying, which lift your spirit (and) kindle one’s enthusiasm to live”
My hope is that you will use the examples to learn rather than get into a slanging or shouting match between opponents or supporters of the people involved in the cases or examples used.
2. What lessons can we learn from the stories of others?
In the words of Mark Sanborn: “Headlines regularly inform us of the public downfall of leaders from every area of endeavour – business, politics, religion and even sports. One day they are on top of the heap, the next, the heap is on top of them.”
We have seen idols fall from grace in spectacular ways. Just think of names such as John Block, Jackie Selebi, Zhou Yongkang, Jacques Chirac, Sheldon Silver and Ehud Olmert in the political sphere. On the business side, we have Bernard Ebbers, Greg Blank, Jeff Skilling, Bernie Madoff, Jordan Belfort, Raj Rajaratnam, Jeff Levenstein, Peter Gardner, Rod Mitchell, Arthur Brown, Bashir Awale and Brett Kebble. On the sporting and cultural front, many heroes and heroines have fallen from their pedestals, hurting millions of fans: Tiger Woods, Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong, Mike Tyson, Oscar Pistorius, OJ Simpson, Hansie Cronje, Maria Sharapova, Jerome Valke, Michelle Platini, Chuck Blazer, Sepp Blatter and Jimmy Saville.
The stories behind each of these falls from grace, and many more, reveal how people in positions of power or influence; people who are skilled and talented; or people who were admired and idolised, lost their way. As you can see, these cases span the developed to the developing world; corporates and public sector; multinationals and NGO’s; sports and cultural icons – corruption and ethical violation have neither geographic boundary nor cultural identity.
In addition to those mentioned above, many leaders and heroes are currently mired in all sorts of controversies and investigations in the political sphere. I would like to use four examples of very popular and senior leaders and the challenges they currently face in relation to both a legal and an ethical standard:
Senator Bukola Saraki, the President of the Nigerian Senate, is facing allegations of corruption;
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma is facing allegations of so called “state capture”, the possible reinstatement of 786 corruption and racketeering charges, and the need to pay for the undue benefits from non-security upgrades at his home and acting in a manner inconsistent with the Constitution;
Dilma Rousseff, former President of Brazil, has been suspended from office and is to stand trial, accused of manipulating the government budget;
President Luiz Lula da Silva also a former President of Brazil has been implicated and charged in the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history.
Regardless of the outcomes of these political and legal cases and the ethical issues that arise from them, these leaders will remain heroes to some and villains to others, depending how one looks at such matters. These cases bring to the fore matters that are political, governance, legal and about ethics. Time will tell as to how these stories will unfold.
On the business side, we have similar scandals such as the ones involving Leon Kirkinis of African Bank (Myburgh report on the Collapse of the African Bank); Lucky Montana of Prasa (Public Protector’s Report on for procurement fraud), Hlaudi Motsoeneng (Public Protector’s Report on Abuse of Power, Maladministration and Systematic Corporate Government Deficiencies) Toshiba’s accounting scandal, and Volkswagen’s cheating on emission tests. In the field of sport, culture and celebrities, we have witnessed sexual assault scandals involving Bill Cosby and Bob Hewitt.
All of these people inspired respect at some point. So what happened? I would challenge you to go and read about each of the cases and examples I have referred to. Each one of the court documents, reports, submissions, legal arguments etc. runs into millions of pages, but you owe it to yourself as a young leader to read these in order to draw valuable lessons for yourself. Beyond the headlines, accusations and counter accusations, there are lifelong lessons for each of us, and I hope you will be inquisitive to learn more about these cases.
3. Why do leaders or people lose their way?
Failure to resist the temptation
In an article titled why do leaders lose their way, Prof Bill George ponders the question of why talented leaders who were highly successful in their respective fields and at the peak of their careers do things that lead to their downfall.
He posits: “Leaders who lose their way are not necessarily bad people; rather, they lose their moral bearings, often yielding to seductions in their paths. Very few people go into leadership roles to cheat, to do evil, yet we all have the capacity for actions we deeply regret unless we stay grounded.”
Nonetheless, he argues that their behaviour is especially perplexing and raises questions about what caused them to lose their way:
Why do leaders known for integrity and leadership engage in unethical activities?
Why do they risk great careers and unblemished reputations for such ephemeral gains?
Do they think they won’t get caught or believe their elevated status puts them above the law?
Was this the first time they did something inappropriate, or have they been on the slippery slope for years?
We may not have all the answers, each case may be different, and there may be mitigating or extenuating circumstances in each case. Labels, characterisations, and generalisations will not help. What may be useful is how we help current leaders and future leaders to draw valuable lessons from these experiences.
The reality, according to Prof George, is that simplistic notions of good and bad only cloud our understanding of why good leaders lose their way, and how this could happen to any of us.
As we reflect on this, as we think about your future as leaders, we must recognise a huge weakness – universities and other institutions produce strong and inspirational young people who go on to take on leadership roles in the private, public and entrepreneurial sectors or in civil society – how are we preparing them and other young people to face the leadership challenges of our time? How are we preparing ourselves – but more importantly, you as young leaders, as future leaders – to resist the temptations, to avoid the seduction, to be mindful of the pitfalls that await? Let me illustrate this by means of a short story:
The story of the cat
Once upon a time there was a domesticated cat that was treated as an only child by its wealthy owner. The owner, who was very ill, had one last wish before he died – a magnificent dinner with his closest friends. He said to the cat, “Dear Cat, please be a host and a waiter on this special night with my dear friends. After that, I will die peacefully and leave to you all my riches.” The cat happily agreed and the evening was a major success. Both the owner and his guests were very happy on this last night.
Towards the end of the evening, as coffee was being served, the cat saw for the first time a mouse in all its splendour. His natural instinct urged him to go after this mouse, but his good judgment thought about losing out on all the riches he was promised. In the end, temptation won. The cat dropped the hot coffee on the owner and his guests and chased after the mouse. Unfortunately for the cat, the mouse went through a hole and the cat lost out on a wonderful meal. More importantly, he lost out on all the riches he had been promised.
How many times has this story played itself out in real life? How many times do leaders fall from grace because of temptations – greed, bribery, insider trading, crony capitalism, fraud, corruption and fame – losing their good name, political office, job, position or even their freedom?
In your current role, in your business or personal life, do you know and appreciate the seductions in your path; do you know what you need to do to stay grounded? The harsh reality, according to Ryland Fisher, most of us probably have good and bad in us and there is a continuous fight between what makes us good or bad.
He further argues, that there is a possibility that all of us could at some point in our life do something stupid that could change our lives forever.
He concludes, not all of us will get caught out, however, and not all of us will have the resources, when we get caught out, to employ the best legal brains in the business to help get us out of the mess in which we landed ourselves. It is also important to always remember that Ethics and the Law are not identical – typically, the law tells us what we are prohibited from doing and what we are required to do. It is said that the law sets minimum standards of behavior while ethics sets maximum standards. We must strive for ethical behavior and not rely on our ability to use our economic or political muscle to escape accountability through lengthy legal proceedings –we must aim for the maximum, and not the minimum standard of behavior.
3.2. Motivation to be a leader
The timeless words inscribed at The Oracle of Delphi read: “Know Thyself”. In the sphere of leadership, this means that each one of us, regardless of what we have told, or keep telling others, must at least know our deepest motives for wanting to be in a leadership role. Is it the power, the perks, the riches, the adulation, the potential wealth or the prestige that comes with such a position?
We have to answer ourselves, truthfully and honestly: Why do we aspire to be leaders? What is it really? Not what we tell others, but what we feel when our guard is down, when we are alone, when we are “off camera”?
The standard that resonates with me personally, the one I aspire to, one I will strive to attain until my last breath, is stated by Kouzes and Posner:
“Each leader or potential leader has to place the people at the centre, be responsive to their needs, respectful of their wishes and accountable to them. This requires us as leaders to be selfless in our contribution, inclusive in our decisions, humble in our behaviour and inspiring in our actions. If we do this, our joy will not be in how exalted we may be; how elevated our positions are, how much wealth we can amass, and how much power we can have … it must come from a deeper and special place, where others benefit, grow, or prosper because of our actions … that’s true leadership.”
We always need to remind ourselves that the true essence of leadership lies in a higher ideal, a challenge to be confronted, a goal to be achieved or a mission to be accomplished. Anyone who takes on a leadership role driven by personal reasons, motivated by possible gain, enticed by the benefits that may accrue or excited by the possibility of being in charge is likely fail dismally as a leader.
In the words of Prof Bill George: “Before anyone takes on a leadership role, they should ask themselves, ‘Why do I want to lead?’ and ‘What’s the purpose of my leadership?’ These questions are simple to ask, but finding the real answers may take decades. If the honest answers are power, prestige, and money, such leaders are at risk of relying on external gratification for fulfilment. There is nothing wrong with desiring these outward symbols as long as they are combined with a deeper desire to serve something greater than oneself.”
Many leaders, motivated by more narrow and selfish interests, easily succumb to greed, to negative influences and to vices. This leads them to use their position of trust (the role of the cat in that household) for personal gain or enrichment (the pursuit of the mouse). This leads to corruption, embezzlement of funds, fraud, collusion, price fixing and the use of public, community or corporate resources for personal gain.
What lessons can we draw from the following scandals and the different people involved; the bread price fixing scandal, Nkandla security upgrades, collusion in the construction industry, the Auction Alliance scandal and many other scandals involving high flying executives, highly respected officials, and reputable professions and organisations?
In the words of Dr Roger Jardine, “From these examples of public and private sector collusion and corruption in South Africa, we can see that it is a widespread problem that is rapidly becoming part of the fabric of our society. It is not unique to any one sector. Our institutions, public and private, are being reduced to nothing more than a site for accumulation. “
Failure to deal with the pressure at the top
As if that were not enough, the problem you face as young leaders goes beyond your intentions as a leader. Some temptations and seductions affect every leader, particularly when they become successful. In the words of the former Novartis Chairman, Daniel Vasella: “For many of us the idea of being a successful manager – leading the company from peak to peak, delivering the goods quarter by quarter – is an intoxicating one. It is a pattern of celebration leading to belief, leading to distortion. When you achieve good results… you are typically celebrated, and you begin to believe that the figure at the centre of all the champagne toasting is yourself.”
While most people value fair compensation for their accomplishments, few leaders start out seeking only money, power and prestige. Along the way, the rewards –bonus cheques, newspaper articles, perks, and stock appreciation – fuel a growing desire for more.
This creates a deep desire to keep it going, often driven by a desire to overcome narcissistic wounds from childhood. Many times, this desire is so strong that leaders breach the ethical standards that previously governed their conduct, which can be bizarre and even illegal.
The cult of the Big Man, the omnipresent and know all CEO is a key feature of most organisational failures. These leaders, who have very little checks and balances to curb their excesses, run the institutions as their personal fiefdom with dire consequences. Whether it’s the collapse of African Bank, Regal bank, Saambou, Real Africa Durolink, Health&Rackett, or Auction Alliance and many other scandals in South Africa or the scandals that destroyed companies and reputations in the Enron, Worldcom, Levitt Group, FIFA, Toshiba, Valeant, Tyco, Lehman Brothers or the Saytam scandals, we see the same arrogance, hubris, greed, power, money, control, and personality cults.
This is aptly captured in the Myburgh report, “ In considering the personality of Mr Kirkinis, the word hubris comes to mind …(he) believed that he was right, and everyone was wrong”
In the timeless words of John Wooden, “ ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there”
As you move up in your organisations, as you receive accolades and promotions, as you charge up the corporate, political or organisational leader, remember than you are now becoming more vulnerable to the lack of oxygen at the death zone of leadership, at the very top of the leadership pyramid. Make sure that your character; values and inner moral strength keep you there.
3.4. Corruption and capture
This phenomenon not only affects the private sector, it touches the public sector too. The standard of ethical conduct that applies to political leaders and civil service leaders prohibits those serving in such leadership and decision-making roles from maintaining relationships that create or may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. This includes the personal interests of their spouses, children and family members. These ethical standards are intended to promote public confidence that government decisions are made without partiality or favour stemming from a financial or other stake in the outcome.
South Africa’s former President Kgalema Montlanthe, who described these temptations, aptly described this:
“Corruption is a very simple problem. Its front-line soldiers are gifts. They won’t ask of you for any favours at the time, they will just leave it and go. But one day, the same person, while you are sitting at the counter, will find themselves at the end of a long queue and then wave at you and you must make a plan for him to come to the front. Corruption does not announce itself with drum majorettes.”
Indeed, the daily temptations, the orchestrated schemes, the exciting possibility of shortcuts to success will present themselves to leaders and potential leaders in various guises. They are likely to be clothed in charitable language, or masked under the banner of a good cause, or presented as a legal, yet not quite ethical or slightly over-assertive way to achieve quick results. They may take the form of generous gifts or donations.
Furthermore, they are likely to be presented by people you know, relatives, friends, comrades … the people you trust. We must protect our future, our young and the potential leaders, from these temptations through sound education and proper role modelling.
Michela Wong, author of the book, “ Its our turn to eat”, argues very strongly against the notion that a leader can escape blame for the corrupt or unethical behaviour of his family, close friends or supporters who do such deeds in his or her name. Although Michela refers to the challenges of corruption in the time of President Kibaki, these comments can refer to many leaders in different countries, regions, parastatals, province, municipality or government agencies.
Wong drives the point strongly home,
“ …its his aides/wife/sons who are the problem. They’re like leeches. If only he’d realise what they are doing in his name and put a stop to it. But of course he adores them. It’s his one weakness such a shame.
The argument has always struck me as a form of naivety so extreme it verges on intellectual dishonesty. In countries where presidents have done their best to centralise power, altering communities, winning over the army and emasculating the constitution, the notion that the key decisions can be taken without their approval is laughable.
If a leader is surrounded by shifty, money-grabbing aides and family members, its because he likes it that way. These are the people he feels at ease with, whose working methods he respects. Far from being an aberration, the entourage is a faithful expression of the autocrat’s own proclivities.
Powerfully put, this is the reality, as the saying goes, “ fish rots from the head’, which means, a leader has to define the ethical stance of his or her organisation. As Larry Senn and Jim Hart have observed, “ Leaders cast a huge shadow over the organisations they lead for good or ill”
This means that the values, habits, preferences and biases of a leader leave a huge imprint on his or her friends, family, close relatives, peers, subordinates and the entire organisation. Those people, immediately, or over time, take on the characteristics of the leader.
Any leader, who believes and conducts him/herself in an ethical way will become a role model and will always ensure that their actions, and the actions of those closest to them will match their overall ethical message.
Each one of us has to introspect, reflect on our behaviours, and solicit feedback from others as to the kind of shadow we cast in our organisation, what our real reputation is among our supporters and other stakeholders.
The story of King David and Bathsheba
2 Samuel 11-12 in the Bible tells the story of how King David’s lust and abuse of power, which started with him seducing Bathsheba, the wife of one of his top generals, and later moved on to plotting to kill the general and marrying Bathsheba.
Joanne Ciulla argues that the most striking thing about leaders or heroes getting themselves into trouble is the cover-ups are usually worse than the original transgression. In King David’s case, he had transgressed through the adultery, but his quest to cover up his transgression led to the murder of his top general.
The impact of a leader or hero’s moral or ethical lapses causes great harm to their constituencies. Read as a leadership case study, the story of David and Bathsheba is about pride and the moral fragility of people when they hold leadership positions and the lengths they have to go to hold on to those positions. The tragic case of former President Richard Nixon epitomises both the leader’s ethical blind spot and the dangers of a cover up. This is revealed in the historic interview between Prof Richard Nixon and the legendary David Frost:
David Frost: So what in a sense you’re saying is that there are certain situations …where the President can decide that its in the best interest of the nation or something, an do something illegal?
Richard Nixon: Well, when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
This mind-set is the reason why we need to be quite cautious and careful when we elect or appoint leaders. We have to heed the caution of Joel Netshitenzhe, who argues that the appointment of a defective leader presents a difficult conundrum for an organisation: to rationalise its bad choices, an organization has to lower itself to embrace the defects of the leaders it has chosen as its own defects. Steadily, the defects of the individual leaders become, by default, the collective property of the organisation, its own blind spots and its subliminal attributes in the public imagination. We ignore such advice at our peril.
Without the benefit of a good grounding in ethics, values, principles, compliance and the importance of doing things with the highest levels of integrity, how do we expect our potential leaders to emerge unscathed from this corrupting jungle? These issues are not only relevant to students or young leaders; they affect people in every sphere of endeavour, because the scourge of corruption, greed, collusion, fraud, bribery and embezzlement dogs every facet of life.
Should you find yourself in ethical difficulties, denials and cover-ups are not the answer, the best course of action is taking personal responsibility and to seek reconciliation with followers and those affected by his/her actions. Such behaviour and genuine apologize is not a sign of a weakness, but it’s a hallmark of humility in a leader. If this were done with a “ broken and contrite heart” and a visible change in behaviour, most followers would reconcile with person who has erred.
4. How can you stay on track?
4.1. Harness the support of those who truly care about you
Most people can remain grounded by themselves for a while, but success, fame, power, prestige and sometimes, newfound friends, can derail you. Each one of us, in different ways, depends on the people closest to them to stay centred. We should, always seek out people who influence us in profound ways and stay connected to them.
In my own life, my beloved wife, Sva Mali, whom I have known for more than 27 years, knows me best. She is not impressed by fancy titles or new-found wealth; instead, she worries that these outward symbols may be causing the loss of authenticity.
I also have very close friends, colleagues and family members whom I regularly consult for advice when facing difficult decisions. These people are always entirely honest and straight with me, defining reality and developing action plans.
4.2. Focus on personal development
Prof Bill George argues that leaders can also avoid pitfalls by devoting themselves to personal development that cultivates their inner compass, or True North. This requires reframing their leadership from being heroes to being servants of the people they lead. This process requires thought and introspection because many people get into leadership roles in response to their ego needs. It enables them to transition from seeking external gratification to finding internal satisfaction by making meaningful contributions through their leadership.
Maintaining their equilibrium amid this stress requires discipline. Some people practice meditation or yoga to relieve stress, while others find solace in prayer or taking long runs or walks. Still others find relief through laughter, music, television, sporting events, and reading. Their choices don’t matter, as long as they relieve stress and enable themselves to think clearly about work and personal issues.
Adv Vusi Pikoli argues that it is the values that start at home with our upbringing that is the basis for ethical behavior. He argues that, “ Everything being equal, our parents should be our first role models. Integrity is about our internal subjective values that objectively have an impact on our society. It makes us who we are and no money can buy integrity. It is an anti-thesis of cognitive dissonance that seeks to rationalize or justify wrong conduct knowing that it is wrong.”
He concludes, “We need to do what is right irrespective of consequences and that is courageous leadership that is underpinned by integrity. You will note my emphasis is more on integrity than ethics though a code of ethics is equally important. The reason is that at times people comply with the code of ethics because of fear of sanctions in case of breach.
His challenge, to each of us, is that integrity is about self-discipline and self-control, or self-mastery –that is you do the right because you genuinely believe it is the right thing to do and not because you are being policed or watched. In his view, which I fully subscribe to, “ integrity is the fulcrum upon which ethical leadership rests.”
4.3. Courage to stand firm on your values regardless of the consequences
One of the challenges we face is our actions or inactions in cases where we either witness wrongdoings, are compelled to be complicit to corruption, are required to be a whistle blower to ethical misconduct or need to take steps to prevent the looting of state or company resources. This is a lonely time for most honest, principled and ethically conscious people –their inner core cannot allow them to be part of such behavior, but the fear of loss of income, reprisals, being ostracized, threats to life and limb, leave them with a huge dilemma. These are the times that require courage and fortitude.
The harsh reality is that the call for courage comes constantly to each of us. Every day of our lives courage is needed—not just for the momentous events but also more often as we make decisions or respond to circumstances around us. The higher the takes, the greater the courage required.
In the timeless words of Robert Louis Stevenson: “Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats for you and no crowds shout your name.” For each person, faced with a decision to act, or refusing to act, in line with their conscience requires an inner courage to do doing the right thing even though you may be afraid, defending your beliefs and values at the risk of being ridiculed, and maintaining those beliefs even when threatened with a loss of friends or employment, political affiliation, material possessions and worldly riches. He or she who stands steadfastly for that which is right must risk becoming at times disapproved and unpopular.
The are millions of people who make these kinds of decisions daily, I would like to mention 3 examples of such courageous and ethical people:
Erin Brockovich was an unemployed single mother who became a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brought down a California power company for polluting a city’s water supply. Her courage, passion and tenacity won the victims of water pollution the largest settlement ever paid in a direct lawsuit.
John Githongo, Head of the Anti Corruption in Kenya resigned his job, escaped to the UK, then wrote a memorandum to President Kibaki, spelling out how senior Cabinet ministers and government officials had used security contracts worth as much as US$1bn to siphon off government funds into non existent companies. Michela Wong’s brilliant book, “ Its Our Turn to Eat”, tells the story of John Githongo as a story of a brave whistleblower.
Thuli Madonsela, South Africa’s Public Protector found that President Jacob Zuma and his family unduly benefited from security upgrades at his Nkandla private home. This created a firestorm with personal attacks on her motives, competence, patriotism, personal agenda and powers of her office. Adv. Madonsela deserves praise and recognition for her steadfast and courageous stand in support of the principle of accountable government. Against overwhelming pressure, in a climate of vitriolic attacks on her integrity, competence and impartiality she remained resolute in her independence and the powers bestowed on her office by the Constitution. The Constitutional Court vindicated her stance by confirming that her findings are binding, that the President failed to uphold the Constitution and should pay a reasonable portion towards the costs of the non-security upgrades.
These stories and many more clearly show how difficult it is to take an ethical stance, to expose corruption, to stand up to those in powerful positions. The reality, however, that all of us must grasp, as individuals, corporates, institutions, or governments, is that if we are not willing to accept the pain real values incur, we must not bother going to the trouble of formulating individual or institutional values statement. When your test comes, what will you do, will you succumb to the pressures or give in to the fears, or will you follow the righteous path?
5. Keep your wits about you
As you grow into more senior and prominent positions, beware of the dangers ahead, dangers described by Jonathan Sucks: “When everything that matters can be bought and sold, when commitments can be broken because they are no longer to your advantage, when shopping becomes salvation and advertising slogans become our litany; when our worth is measured by how much we earn and spend, then the market is destroying the very virtue on which in the long run it depends.”
The current societal climate promotes an environment of hubris, greed, corruption, fraud, and conspicuous consumption. Former President Thabo Mbeki aptly describes this: “Thus, every day, and during every hour of our time beyond sleep, the demons embedded in our society, that stalk us at every minute, seem always to beckon each one of us towards a realisable dream and nightmare. With every passing second, they advise, with rhythmic and hypnotic regularity – get rich! Get rich! Get rich!”
He went on to say,
“In these circumstances, the meaning of freedom has come to be defined not by the seemingly ethereal and therefore intangible gift of liberty, but by the designer labels on the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the spaciousness of our houses and our yards, their geographic location, the company we keep, and what we do as part of that company.
“In the event that what I have said has come across as a meaningless ramble, let me state what I have been saying more directly.
“It is perfectly obvious that many in our society, having absorbed the value system of the capitalist market, have come to the conclusion that, for them, personal success and fulfilment means personal enrichment at all costs, and the most theatrical and striking public display of that wealth.”
6. Towards ethical leadership in all spheres
There is a backlash in South Africa, on the continent and throughout the world, epitomised by how allegedly corrupt leaders and governments are being voted out of power in different countries and election. There are more comments on corruption as people, in many countries complain about the impact of corruption in their lives. These frustrations are best outlined by a famous speech by former Ambassador Clay, “ We never thought corruption to be vanquished overnight. We all implicitly recognised that some would be carried over to the new era. We hoped it would not be rammed in our faces. But it has. Those in government were now eating like gluttons out of a combination of arrogance, greed and panic. They may expect that we shall not see, or notice, or will forgive them a bit of gluttony, but they can hardly expect us not to care when their gluttony causes them to vomit all over our shoes”
Corruption and ethical violations have a devastating impact on economies, on development, on poverty alleviation. It is only those who benefit from such corruption who do not see the anger this causes.
Dr Jardine urges us to be united in the fight against corruption and implores all of us to live ethical lives and to lead ethically,
“ Instead of addressing the issues head on, we continue to point fingers. The private sector accuses government of wasteful expenditure, while the public sector accuses business of being rampant capitalists. We need an end to the ideological cold war between the government and the business community. To win the war against corruption we will need to act decisively in the short term to make long-term gains. This is not going to be easy. But let’s start by making people accountable for their actions. Prosecute individuals who engage in collusion and corruption, and if found guilty prohibit them from holding leadership positions. This applies to our politicians as well. Ed Koch, the former Mayor of New York City once said, “The knife of corruption endangered the life of New York City. The scalpel of the law is making us well again.” We cannot afford a climate in which South Africans feel that if you are powerful you will not be held to account”
As we are confronted by the material wealth of today, the seduction of conspicuous consumption or the temptations of short cuts, let us remember the profound question of Professor Clay Christensen:
“How will I measure my life?
“On the day we leave this earth, what will our families, friends and colleagues say about us? Will they mention the expensive toys, extravagant gifts… or our absence from their lives? What will be written on our tombstones? The number of successful mergers and acquisitions, projects delivered, air miles totted up, numbers of cars bought, tenders won, or our net worth? I hope it will be more than this, I hope we will leave a much more meaningful and lasting legacy.”
I know what happened when my father, Mzwandile Wellington Mali passed on. He didn’t leave us a will. He bequeathed us no material possessions. But I can proudly proclaim that he left us, as a family, a rich legacy of service, leadership, integrity, and courage in standing up for beliefs, principles, values and the truth, regardless of personal consequences. That is the legacy I would like to leave for my children.
Professor Christensen shared with us the painful stories of his former classmates who were now either divorced, not in touch with their children, or involved in corruption or scandal because of the forces and temptations that come with high corporate office. He further counselled us that understanding what trapped some of his classmates is important; not just for those who have left the path that they planned to follow, but also for those whose lives are still on track and for those whose journeys are just beginning.
This is especially important for you, as young leaders. From here on, you are going to be in demand, within your organisations and outside them. Prestige, new positions, perks, new roles, fame and fortune beckon. As you succeed, this will vastly improve your chances of being tapped for the top jobs and being offered the opportunities that you all hope for.
Professor Christensen tempers our excitement with a warning: “We are all vulnerable to the forces and decisions that have derailed many.”
Heed his advice, take into heart his counsel, and live an ethical life, and lead in ethical ways. You are the future, you dare not fail…
I thank you