The Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) saw it coming as early as the 1500s, when he declared: “what are we in power for!” This was not a question, but a pragmatic pronouncement about the skill of acquisition and utilization of power that leaders ought to learn, perpetuate and protect. Profoundly, Machiavelli’s evocation depicts the downfall of many great leaders across the globe – among governments, corporations and even cause-oriented social movements. More than 400 years later, the English Baron Lord Acton (1834-1902) unleashed his popular dictum against Machiavellian pragmatism: “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely!”
The use of cunning and deceitful tactics in politics and society in general, aimed at protecting and propagating vested interests (can be personal interests, class interests, party interests, business interests), has become a major source of tension as management and leadership theories evolve. The basic tension arises from the lacuna of an operational ethical framework that could have served as one of the firm foundations of effective managerial and leadership styles. This lacuna explains the many controversies and scandals that hound the world’s leaders. Thus, there is a need to privilege ethical leadership as an urgent theoretical and practical tool – a kind of ethical leadership philosophy that promotes integrity, credibility and ascendancy, and that which provides a meaningful normative function for effective managerial and leadership skills. In resonance, Lee Bolman and Terence Deal (Reframing Organizations, 2008) fittingly espoused: “If we choose to banish moral discourse and leave managers to face ethical issues alone, we invite dreary and brutish political dynamics. An organization can and should take a moral stance. It can make its values clear, hold employees accountable, and validate the need for dialog about ethical choices. Positive politics without an ethical framework and moral dialogue is as unlikely as bountiful harvests without sunlight or water!"
I adhere to the belief that intelligence without integrity will result in impunity. Without integrity, intelligence and competence will just become effective instruments for undesirable conduct of managers and leaders. On the other hand, integrity without intelligence will simply yield to mediocrity. Mediocre people cannot serve as good and inspiring leaders. Integrity flourishes best when it works with the other ingredients for effective managerial functions and leadership skills.
Leadership without intelligence or integrity gives rise to kakistocracy – a government or organization that is ruled by the most unprincipled, unethical and unqualified managers and leaders. Kakistocracy comes from the Greek kakistos (to mean worst) or kakos (to mean bad) + kracia (to mean rule, power, government). If unchecked, kakistocracy results in kleptocracy . Kleptocracy comes from the Greek kleptos (to mean theft) + kratos (to mean rule).
Kakistocratic and kleptocratic leadership behavior explains the world’s woes in government corruption, corporate scandals, desecration of rule of law, and even the persistence of illegitimate authoritarian states and despotic rulers.
Kenneth Shaw (The Intentional Leader, 2005) was unequivocal: “Make no mistake about it – ethical leaders are good leaders... most sought after and admired leaders around the world were honest, forward-looking, confident, and inspiring. In most international surveys conducted over the past thirty years, honesty is valued first... because we don’t want to be lied to; we want to be told the truth. We want a leader who knows right from wrong...when we follow someone we believe to be dishonest, we come to realize that we’ve compromised our own integrity. In time, we not only lose respect for the leader, we lose respect for ourselves!"
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