Wednesday, February 6, 2008

what makes for leadership?

Well, in the United States, Super Tuesday is over. The primaries and caucuses in 22 states have brought forward the people's preferences for president.

This year, more than most I believe, the candidates are presenting themselves as models of leadership styles. Leadership, not policies, is of concern to the people.

Hillary Clinton is the candidate of effective, insider power; she will be "ready on day one."

Barack Obama is the candidate of vision, hope, inclusion, inspiration, rising about race and partisanship to be American in the best sense of the term.

John McCain is the warrior - tough, determined, relentless, "take the hill", "get the job done."

Mitt Romney is the manager - deliberate, builder of administrative teams and employer of experts, not flashy but steady.

Mike Huckabee is the candidate of faith - inspired by his God to serve God's purposes on earth.

So what is leadership?

What do people want? That is one thing. What they deserve might be something else.

In democratic politics, we often deserve better than we get.

What we get reflects the trials and tribulations of our passions, our selfishness, our fears, the shallowness of our institutions and cultural conventions.

The Caux Round table, I think, recognizes these limitations in leadership and administration - both in business and government. That is why we advocate certain principles: we want aspriations for the better to penetrate into our actions - both individual and collective and so lead to better outcomes from private and public descision-making.

Our core observation is that good leadership comes from knowing acceptance of trust responsibilities - of stewardship.

Here in Bangkok, His Majesty yesterday on Feb 6th accepted a new cabinet to govern Thailand.

In his remarks to the new Prime Minister and Ministers, His Majesty said from the point of view of a thoughful Theravada Buddhist monarch that words must be matched with actions and deeds.

"Words," His Majesty said "are honorable if they are matched by action because if you speak without doing, your words will carry no honor."

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Leadership is accepting personal responsibility for results and then seeking to obtain results.

"The buck stops here" said American President Harry Truman.

Corporate social responsibility, business ethics, public service, are all in the doing, not the talking.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

With a little help from my friends

The title of a notable Beatles song came to mind here in Bangkok as I read a short report in the Nation newspaper.

A recent public opinion poll obtained results that more than half of surveyed Thai citizens would accept a corrupt government if it would make their lives better.

Here is living cultural evidence of consequentialist thinking in ethics - the greater good washes away concern for sin.

The survey found that 50.5% of those polled would accept a corrupt government if it made their lives better.

With respect to business ethics, 62.9% of those polled would not behave honestly in their profession if they deemed it necessary. Some 78.1% of respondents showed a tendency to let their actions be dictated by prevailing public sentiment. On the question of diligence, 68.2% admitted that their willingness to work depended on their mood, 62.65% tended to use emotions rather than reason in solving problems and 61.8% felt shy when they had to help others.

In short, promotion of business ethics and corporate social responsibility may face some challenges in such a cultural context.

Is the solution mass conversion of Thais to some alternate culturally derived disposition of personality?

I am reminded of the American protestant missionary sent to Siam in the 1850's. When questioned by his patrons in Boston, he wrote back that it was true that after 2 years of effort he and his colleague had converted only 2 Siamese to Christianity. But, he admitted, his work would go faster if "only the Siamese believed in sin."