Being a leader of any cause, organization, institution or government requires respect – respect for others and for oneself. It requires a basic love for life that puts the greater good above one’s personal ambitions – especially if achieving a high position is useful in helping the greater good. It requires honesty and being able to admit mistakes. And it requires knowing oneself and having a strong connection to the Divine, so that the quality of one’s communication to the world comes from a clear inner compass.
How, therefore, do leaders become corrupted? They become corrupted when they have lost their inner compass. Or perhaps they never had a strong compass to begin with, and despite outward attempts to convince themselves and the public that they want to do good, they become confronted with temptation they do not resist because of a lack of a strong compass. This tendency needs to be explored further, as all human beings are, at one time or another, confronted with temptations they do not resist – but the difference between a leader who falters occasionally and later regrets his actions, and a leader who is not only taken in by a temptation but actively encourages it, should be obvious: The first is simply a fallible human being, the other is a leader who has given in to corruption. And corruption involves the active denial of values for the purpose of self-enrichment.
Besides respect, love for life and self-knowledge, what are the other values essential to true leadership? The first, I believe, is a commitment to being conscious of one’s ego – the degree of self-importance one carries around in the world. If a leader knows his value, or his potential value, and operates from a positive sense of self that acts as an inner support for his work and his interactions with others, then his ego will more likely not expand into an exaggerated sense of self-importance – and he will more likely be respectful of the rights of others and therefore not be vulnerable to corruption. But if a leader has allowed his ego to convince him he is entitled to as much wealth and power as possible, then he is much more vulnerable to being corrupted – and therefore to disregarding the rights of others for his own limited self-interest. In the case of the first, that leader will tend to treat others with compassion, because he wants to improve the well-being of the world. In the case of the second, that leader will tend to treat others with contempt or indifference, caring only about his bottom line, regardless of how it affects others.
This brings us to another value: knowing the difference between leadership and control, which has a subset of implications that involve other important values. The leader whose basic drive is to contribute positive and healthy products, designs, ideas, or laws will tend not only to be compassionate and have respect for all those under and around him, but will also tend to be mindful of the impact he and his work are having on others. He will therefore be an agent of inspiration rather than control. The leader whose products, designs, ideas or laws are created for the purpose of dominating others will be an agent of control rather than inspiration – and will therefore attempt to manipulate benevolent people to his own ends. The first leader will tend to care about health and the environment; the second cares only about profit and power and has little or no concern for the well-being of the planet. The actions of a company, for example, tend to reflect the basic philosophy that pervades the entire institution – and to reflect the mindset of the company’s leaders: One company may respect the ideas of its employees to engender more creativity; yet another may not, preferring a strictly “top-down” approach. One company may be so concerned about the health of our planet that it makes a point of respecting the lives of indigenous people first before mining their land; yet another may take its bulldozers into the heart of a rainforest and destroy not only the lives of human beings but an important source of oxygen for us all. Some religious schools teach love, compassion, respect for one another, and freedom of conscience in one’s relationship to the Divine; others teach hate or divisive beliefs and contempt for fellow human beings who are different, and prescribe how one may relate to the Divine. Some nations have been led by those who wish to take a positive and cooperative position in the world, and to give their citizens freedom of thought and belief; others have been led by those selfish enough to lead their people into greater poverty and misery, and to restrict freedom of thought and belief. The list goes on, but the important point is that values matter in any form of leadership, including being a parent in a family; after all, when and where do our values start to form? Children get their values from their parents and from the environment in which they grow up. Adults get their values not only from what they have learned as children, but from the leaders in their work environments and from the moral compass – or lack thereof – of their institutions.
Without a strong connection to the Divine and astrong compass of values, a leader will tend to look only toward his own profit and power, and will use corruption – the corruption of others as well as himself – as a tool, with little or no regard for the consequences. Such a leader does not listen to the promptings of his conscience, to the inner knowledge of what is right and wrong. And he will tend to compel others to ignore their consciences as well. This is not true leadership. True leadership involves the active participation of the conscience, which always leads to missions for the good of all. For each of us, the most important value in life may well be to let our every thought and action be guided by the conscience, which is our link to God.
Rev. Roger Davidson