Thursday, August 7, 2008

when leaders fail

We have just observed two significant failures by some of the most important of humanity's representatives.

First, the leaders of the G8 countries - the biggest fish in the pond of sovereign nation states - waffled on doing anything about production of greenhouse gases. Second, trade representatives from a wider array of countries failed to reach a deal on global trade in agricultural products. Movement in further liberalization of trade has come to a halt at the insistence of the Indian government on special protections for its most vulnerable farmers.

My thought is that we live in an age of modest talents on every hand. The true grit of leader-ship is only rarely found in leaders. They are skillful, to be sure, but in small, conniving ways.

Vision and principles don't seem to matter. And, therein lies a worry.

If we take for our standard, the efficacy of our leaders, then the stuff of leadership is insubstantial. Anything that works in the short run will do.

Under such conditions, why should we take seriously, say, the Caux Round Table's ethical principles for business decision-making or for governing institutions of public power?

Principles don't count; executing a public trust is for the naive and the pious, not for the big boys of money and power who alone deserve our respect and emulation. One could come to this conclusion looking at who acts on our behalf these days.

But I would counter that only principles can fill leaders with leadership. We ignore wisdom, vision, high standards, self-control and fiduciary integrity to our collective and personal loss.

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