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Leaders who speak the truth are ethical leaders

12 September 2007

Sharon Machanzi, a Peace and Governance Research Intern at DEVELOPMENT WORKS, attended the recent ETHICAL LEADERSHIP – IN AND THROUGH POLITICS CONFERENCE. Sharon shares her reflections on one of the keynote speeches…

Politicians are probably not more dishonest than the rest of us. It is just that they are in the spotlight and as such, their faults are magnified. At the same time it should be expected that if one is a public figure they need to conduct themselves on a higher moral plane than the rest of the masses. After all they are the people’s representatives and it is expected that, as the peoples’ ambassadors, leaders conduct themselves in a befitting manner. This includes being good role models for the youth and for the upcoming leaders.

What is ethical leadership in governance?

Some people tend to define their leaders behaviour according to what they themselves deem ethical. Mr. Tony Ehrenreich of COSATU in his address on the topic Thirteen years after apartheid: The quest for democratic governance said it was important that we define what we mean by ethical leadership. Ethical leadership should be a standard that is universal, a tool that guides as to the appropriate conduct. In democratic governance, ethical leadership is the kind of leadership that ensures there are regular free and fair elections, the marginalized and disadvantaged are included in society, there is separation of powers between the judiciary and government, giving both credibility and transparency. In addition all citizens must be given a chance to participate in building the democracy. These principles according to Mr. Ehrenreich are some of the significant gains that South Africa has made since the apartheid era. South Africa has thus succeeded in being a participatory democracy.

Ethical leadership in South African Governance

It is regrettably however, to that some political leaders have neglected the notion of ethical leadership and the principles of serving the people. They have instead become leaders that serve only themselves. A leader should work for the good of the people. Instead of point scoring against each other in parliamentary debates, political leaders should engage in constructive debate, about the real issues that affect the people. Despite being from opposing parties leaders should work together to ensure that developmental goals for the country are met. Leaders who speak the truth are ethical leaders. Many a times leaders make promises get votes and then they do not honour these promises when they are in leadership.

Leadership is about serving the people instead of amassing wealth for oneself. The tendency with some political leaders is to become career politicians who are more interested in getting wealth and security for themselves instead of doing the same for the people they serve. This is the reason why some leaders want to hold on to power, even when their followers no longer want their leadership. These same leaders tend then to become corrupt because they want to sustain their new lifestyle, or they engage in unscrupulous behaviour so that they can keep on eating’ while the rest of the population starves from lack of resources or poor delivery of services. This kind of unethical leadership pays loyalty to party bosses instead of to the electorate who voted them into leadership in the first place.

According to Mr. Ehrenreich, there comes a time when the citizenry must review the kind of leadership that is in place. Citizens exercise their democratic right by electing their leadership in elections. As such they have power, the power to choose. Power is thus not vested in leaders alone, but also in followers. Citizens of any country should hold their leadership accountable through the process of review and asking whether the kind of leadership they have, and are getting, is what they truly deserve.

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