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Political Leadership: Leading with Integrity

July 8, 2009

Ethical lapses, including more serious criminal offences, have dogged modern-day politicians relentlessly, escalating in recent years. This may not necessarily be strictly the consequence of deteriorating standards among politicians but also in part to an obsessed media that has maximized the use of new technologies to sniff out and distribute salacious news stories. The recent shenanigans by some British members of Parliament, who engaged in eye-popping abuses of public funds, have lowered the bar further when it comes to the ethical behaviours of politicians.

In the U.S., there is a long (recent) list of male politicans who have embarrassed their families: former Senator Larry Craig’s exploits in a Minneapolis airport bathroom, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s forays with a prostitite and, perhaps the most bizarre case, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s exploits with an Argentinian journalist, in which he asked his wife’s permission to continue the affair. And let’s not forget a country such as Italy, whose illustrious 72 year-old prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has engaged in a number of reportedly unethical and indecent acts. Canada’s scandals, in contrast, have appeared to be more along the lines of the mundane. Boring, but nice, Canada, as they say.

Politicians want us, as citizens, to believe that they are leaders, whether it involves leading a municipality, state or province, or nation. But leadership implies followership – in fact it’s the key underlying condition. However, if citizens do not respect their political leaders, then how does one generate a followership?

It is also unrealistic – naive, in fact – for the leaders and citizens of rich, Western countries to expect that the populaces of poor countries accept espoused democratic principles when some Western politicians practice sleazy, self – serving politics. When Britain, for example, becomes a laughing stock regarding political integrity, then the scene is getting ugly.

The wise words of Nelson Mandela may serve as a guidepost for political leaders, reminding them of what their role is when elected to public office: “I am your servant. I do not come to you as a leader, as one above others.”

May our politicians always keep Mandela’s words in mind.

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