Grint, Keith, Harvard International Review
Adel Safty's article ("Moral Leadership," Fall 2003) is a timely "call to arms" for those amongst us keen to establish, or perhaps reestablish, a moral thread to contemporary leadership in all its forms, but most critically within politics. Safty argues that management and governance are neutral terms while "Leadership is--or at least ought to be--normatively apprehended as a set of values with connotations evocative of the higher achievements of the human spirit." Leadership is not only tied to these norms, but the norms themselves are explained as "the promotion of human development for the common good of people in a democratic environment." Leadership, which is necessarily moral, is also necessarily tied to democracy.
However, many would argue against the democratic essence of leadership: Plato certainly despised it as a system for encouraging leadership by the demagogue rather than leadership by the wise, and the democratic element of leadership has certainly not been adequate in restraining several of the "lapses" that Safty himself rails against: conflicts in Lebanon, Panama, and the Persian Gulf to name a few.
He rightly laments the havoc caused by leaders such as Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, and Saddam Hussein, but suggests that their catastrophic impact relates primarily to the absence of higher moral purposes and defines such people as rulers rather than leaders.
But there is a problem here: who decides on which side of the divide they lie? This is not just a question of applying Western standards as universally good, but suggesting that all the leaders defined as sitting on the "wrong" side of the fence probably perceived themselves to have a "moral" purpose. To imply that these rulers were simply evil is to miss the point--how did they mobilize so many followers if it was self-evident that no good would come from their leadership? Although I side with Safty in his assault upon immorality, what counts as immoral is neither easy to define nor does it explain the success of such leaders. A perfect example would be the dropping by the US President George Bush administration of the word "crusade" in the war against terrorism. …