Around the world we see individuals in positions of authority who take on the mantel of leadership when in fact they are nothing more than placeholders. All of us fail to a greater or lesser extent in our quest to be moral and infallible, but few fall to the level of these people. One reason for these failures is the secularization of societies, worldwide. Many of these placeholders are waiting for true leaders to arrive and to displace them.
In the WIN-Gallup 2017 poll of the top ten atheist nations, we have already mentioned that China topped the list at 91%. But not all countries with a high proportion of atheists are Communist or former Communist nations. Surprisingly the list includes Japan, Sweden, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Belgium, Estonia, Norway, Australia, and Denmark. In the United States only 56% of people identified as firmly religious: it is Millennial generation that skew the numbers lower. While a religious grounding is not mandatory for leadership, our experience has shown us that it makes learning moral lessons easier, and the earlier these lessons are learned they become internalized. With that in mind we believe that leaders exhibit these traits:
Great leaders voluntarily place moral and ethical boundaries on their own behavior and those they choose as subordinates.
Great leaders have visions that help their followers grow by stretching their capabilities, but they also have the confidence and skills to get there.
It is within this dual framework that leadership emerges when we attain what seems unattainable.
High Expectations within the context of leadership have two broad implications: behavioral boundaries, and high achievement motivation. These are linked with an adamantine chain since a person who has low expectations for one will not perform well in the other. Low expectations anywhere in your life result in poor performance in other areas of your life.
Our Political Leadership Void
We all complain about the quality of our corporate and political leadership, but for some reason few seem to make the connection between a religious foundation and moral or ethical behavior. These are linked and the further we stray from our moral underpinnings the more we begin to excuse aberrant behaviors as normal.
In our nation’s history we have never tried to separate ethical personal behavior from leadership until recent years. We all understand the example of Richard Nixon where he used burglars during his campaign to gain an unfair advantage in the election and was drummed out of office for ethics violations. Few can remember his achievements in international diplomacy and fiscal restraint, only his disgrace. His constant rant of “I am not a crook.” seemed to confirm that he was just that. His choice of dishonest subordinates confirmed his lack of moral underpinnings. Nixon confirmed that it is not power that corrupts, but the fear of loss of power.
The most visible example of low expectations in our Nation’s history came with the Clinton/Lewinsky affair. Clinton supporters invoked the concept of “situational ethics” to try and explain how a person can be completely amoral in their personal life, but a great leader in other areas. Clinton had achievements in budget constraints, welfare reform, and bi-partisan legislation. But all of those are forgotten and we only remember his moral failings, and how he disgraced the Presidency. Clinton only survived in office because, after Nixon, our expectations for Presidents slipped, and we began to accept that they were not always role models.
Unfortunately, we are now experiencing a dilemma that our Country has never faced. It is entirely possible that in our next Presidential election, Americans will be forced to choose between two candidates, both who are seemingly morally bankrupt. President Trump does not deny an affair with a porn star. While this preceded his time in office, it speaks to his character. Evidence is mounting that President Biden and his family have been compromised with foreign bribes, and he may be using the power of the Government as a weapon against opponents and ordinary citizens. This is a crisis for our nation because a large portion of the population may vote for neither of them. Neither President surrounded themselves with subordinates that were above reproach, and these decisions have been disastrous. Deep down the American people know that these two are not our best choice for leadership. Consensus building to create a positive national vision is not possible with either of them.
Our Corporate Leadership Void
We see similar voids in the corporate world where Chairmen of major companies compromise corporate missions and visions and use corporate resources to expand social agendas. When true leaders communicate an understandable and challenging vision people line up to take part. They hold their subordinates and associates to a very high standard of ethics, work, production, and results. Their cohorts know that they are working in an environment where much is expected, and they are achieving unusual results.
One of the best lessons in effective leadership communication of expectations I experienced in my career was a two-sentence illustration that changed the mindset of top management. Shortly after a merger the chairman of our company was having difficulty getting the managers of the two merged companies to “buy in” to his vision. He simply wanted everyone to live up to their own potential, and to build a new company founded on the best of the old. He called a meeting of the key people from both companies, but at the appointed starting time everyone was there except him.
About one or two minutes after the designated start time the chairman walked in and apologized for his tardiness. He explained that the parking lot was full, and he had to get an agreement from the attendant to double park for a minute. He promised the attendant he would come back and move his car as soon as he could. A dozen people at once volunteered to go back and fix the issue. His response was classic: “No, I committed to move my car and the attendant is expecting me to come back and do it. I gave him my word.”
The association was not lost on those assembled. If he made a commitment to you, he would live up to it no matter how difficult or demanding, and if you made a commitment to anyone else his expectation was that you would do your best to live up to it. Commitment to anyone within the company, no matter their position, was sacred. Your word had to be your bond to lead on his team, or you had no place in the company.
Today this type of commitment to visions and goals seems to be missing in our corporate leadership. Commitment to shareholders, customers, and most employees has been replaced by constant yielding to the protest of the day. Once our corporate leaders begin to yield to vocal special interest groups, employees know achievement of any corporate vision and related goals is nearly impossible. These failures of management can be corrected, but only when the boards of directors and shareholders have the courage to do so.
An American Culture of Low Expectations
Over the past few decades America seems to be purposely building a culture of failure. Parents, educators, business, and civic leaders are either asleep at the switch or purposely feeding this downward spiral. Schools expect less, parents expect less, companies yield to special interests, and politicians have become the worst of the lot expecting nothing in the quest for votes. This all creates a downward spiral that must be reversed if we are to survive in a highly competitive world.
Our global enemies can see this destructive spiral, and with the use of technology can feed the problem, making it more difficult to overcome. Social media, obesity, excessive gaming, gender issues, attacks on authority, election interference, corrupted media outlets, and our weakened military are just the tangible signs of these problems. Recent whistleblower disclosures of corruption of government officials at many levels is the confirmation of this influence and degradation of morals. Our laws and regulations have intentionally created a nation where not working is as lucrative as working. Politicians fail to understand that there is powerful self-esteem value in work, and destructive attacks on self-esteem when one just lives from Government largess.
The Solution Is in Our Hands
It is not enough to have parents, educators, business, and Governmental leaders with positive visions for the future. At all levels in our society, we need leadership and clarity of visons that require us to be better, more moral citizens. The American people deserve no less.
From parents to business leaders, to educators, to Governmental leaders, all need the courage to set a course that requires all of us to stretch our capabilities to rebuild what has been lost. Like the space program of the 1960’s, we need a complete reset of our national consciousness to focus on what we can do using the skills and behaviors that unite us.
We all know when we are doing our best, and no society ever kept its greatness by expecting and doing less. We already know that if we expect less, we get less. There are clear examples throughout society. It is time to set higher expectations, require more, and do more! Parents, educators, business leaders, and politicians all need to recouple moral and ethical behavior with higher expectations as a [art of their definition of leadership.