Leader

To be an effective leader, a public official must maintain the highest ethical and moral standards.” Whether successful leadership requires that a leader follow high ethical and moral standards is a complex issue–one that is fraught with the problems of defining ethics, morality, and successful leadership in the first place. In addressing the issue it is helpful to consider in turn three distinct forms of leadership: business, political, and social-spiritual. In the business realm, successful leadership is generally defined as that which achieves the goal of profit maximization for a firm’s shareholders or other owners. Moreover, the prevailing view in Western corporate culture is that by maximizing profits a business leader fulfills his or her highest moral or ethical obligation. Many disagree, however, that these two obligations are the same. Some detractors claim, for example, that business leaders have a duty to do no intentional harm to their customers or to the society in which they operate–for example, by providing safe products and by implementing pollution control measures. Other detractors go further–to impose on business leaders an affirmative obligation to protect consumers, preserve the natural environment, promote education, and otherwise take steps to help alleviate society’s problems. Whether our most successful business leaders are the ones who embrace these additional obligations depends, of course, on one’s own definition of business success. In my observation, as business leaders become subject to closer scrutiny by the media and by social activists, business leaders will maximize profits in the long term only by taking reasonable steps to minimize the social and environmental harm their businesses cause. This observation also accords with my personal view of a business leader’s ethical and moral obligation. In the political realm the issue is no less complex. Definitions of successful political leadership and of ethical or moral…