Leadership Gone Rotten
Tragedy, Duplicity, and Moral Failing in High Places
Facing Canada's Leadership Crisis
by Robert Evans
This press release was found on the Internet, at
Toronto, November 24, 1997
Picture This ... Picture Yourself
A down-at-the-heels fifty-something man, in a dirty raincoat with a lunchbag protruding from his pocket, stops at a newspaper box. The door is not latched. He opens the box and looks at the stack of papers. A moment later, he closes the box firmly, rummages in his pocket, finds a loonie and shoves it in the slot. He takes a paper and again closes the door firmly. Having presented his morality play to an audience of one himself he proceeded down the street towards the subway entrance.
From Moral Leadership:
This one ordinary man performed a solitary act of faith and citizenship that speaks to the heart and soul of leadership. He works for a company somewhere in the city. He will vote in the next election. He asks no more of his boss and of his chosen political leader than that they be as worthy of leading him as he is worthy of being led.
He asks for the exercise of moral courage and, by his little act of faith, exemplifies it. He is, after all, a leader.
Facing Canada's Leadership Crisis,
by Robert Evans
A leader: One who understands that a requirement of genuine leadership is the impulse to articulate, defend and live by certain high principles of ethical conduct.
As we approach the new year, we begin to reflect -- on our jobs, on our family, on ourselves. Over the past several years, some names and phrases have entered our vocabularies and our consciousness. Westray, Somalia. Tainted blood. Bre-X. Airbus. They mean different things to different people, but have in common the ability to remind all of us about tragedy, duplicity, and moral failing in high places. These failings are in the form of leadership gone rotten, responsibility evaded and principle dishonoured. We seem not to know what the word leadership means any more and have lost sight of its essential moral underpinning.
"Leadership is not for everyone. Those who choose not to don the mantle are in no way thereby diminished. But those who accept the challenge acquire the heavy burden of our expectations," says Robert Evans, author of Moral Leadership (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, November 1997). "We expect them to find the way ahead and inspire us to follow. We expect them to exemplify the best we can be and behave with courage, honesty and integrity. We expect them to accept full responsibility for being wrong. And we expect them to willingly take the fall." The most potent element of an ethics program, or leader, is a rock-solid commitment to lead by example in an organization where the law is respected and upheld, where the truth is told and promises are kept, where hard decisions are made with courage and justice, and where integrity is the key to success (KPMG Canada, Sept. '97).
Robert Evans contends that leadership, stripped of all its trappings and rhetoric is simply the exercise of moral courage – the willingness, confidence and passion to act and accept the consequences. We now have a leadership crisis in Canada because those with the moral courage needed to endure the rigours of leadership are not coming forward. Or are they?
Organizations say they recognize the importance and need for ethics standards and programs. National Defence has appointed an ethics coordinator to each Canadian Forces command and National Defence Headquarters group to provide information and guidance on a statement of ethics (Legion Magazine, Nov./Dec. '97). The Canadian Forces Personnel Newsletter states, "We know that virtually all of our people perform their duties to the highest ethical standards and we also know that they take enormous pride in that fact. However, a need also exists to re-emphasize that ethical behaviour is an essential part of our fabric at all levels of leadership and management." And the University of Toronto has created a new chair of business ethics at the Joseph Rotman School of Management, whose role is to improve the study of business ethics throughout the curriculum and research of the business school (Globe & Mail, 10/28/97). Evans would argue that these laudable initiatives are nothing more than tawdry window dressing in the absence of of strong, principled leadership at the top. The moral tone of an organization is a function of its leadership — not of its written codes, breathless rhetoric and diligent ethics coordinators.
As 1997 comes to an end, we should approach the new year with optimism and a renewed sense of hope. Evans states, "Canadians know courageous leadership when they see it. And they honour it without reservation. They care. All they need now are some leaders to care about."
Who will rise up to the challenge?
McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited
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Counter started 10 May 2002
First uploaded to the WWW: 1997 December 19