In search of moral leadership

512px-FDR_in_1933In a recent interview to promote her new book, Becoming, Michelle Obama talked about the pressure of maintaining the moral leadership of the country during her husband’s presidency.  The conversation was sparked by Stephen Colbert commenting that Franklin D Roosevelt was quoted as saying that this was really the role of a president, to provide moral leadership.

“The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. That’s the least of it. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

It got me thinking.  In France, where I live, nothing is ever thought wrong if a president has an affair or a secret love child whilst, in England, where I am from, such behaviour can break a career.  But questions of marital fidelity aside, I would be inclined to agree that we look to our leaders to set a standard of morality that can define the national values and underline the decisions we make in policy and other areas of government.

I’m probably not alone in my great sadness that few countries seem to be exhibiting any kind of moral leadership right now.  Whilst Angela Merkel may have lost votes on her decision to take in a million refugees a few years ago, she did so in her firm belief that this was the morally right thing to do.  Her personal convictions trumped what was politically expedient and for that I admire her greatly.

Closer to home, my greatest dismay over the Brexit fiasco is not so much over the rights and wrongs of remaining in the EU, rather, the sheer level of lies and dishonesty that was pedalled by our leaders to get us to this point and the continuing charade of ‘respecting democracy’ that was based on this dishonesty as a reason to continue with the whole sorry mess.  Not once has there ever been a suggestion that a politician might back down with the admission that the population was fed a whole bunch of lies and that, perhaps, some humility is needed in how we move forward as a nation and with our relationship with others, especially the EU.  If our leaders genuinely think it IS A right move to leave, then at least have the dignity and respect of others to take responsibility over the mess that it is causing to others.

In France, where I live now, a sense of self-serving entitlement obscures any sense of morality in public life.  Whether that’s from the president or the gilets jaunes protestors who are taking to the street, hubris and violence, in that order, obscure any sense of higher order leadership that could genuinely lift us out of this mess.

My own personal passion project is an exploration into the connection between spirituality and leadership.  Spirituality not defined as religion, but by a belief in being servant to a cause far greater than oneself.  Servant leadership.  The capacity to put self secondary to others.  How many leaders do we know like that today?

Published by Caroline Watson

Founder of Hua Dan, a China-based social enterprise that uses the power of participation in theatre as a tool for personal and social transformation. Young Global Leader 2011 of the World Economic Forum. Writer, speaker and entrepreneur.

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