Ideas & Debate

How ethical leadership dearth can be addressed

What’s lacking is an equally vibrant discourse on how we can help those of our leaders who are unethical to change their ways. file photo | nmg
What’s lacking is an equally vibrant discourse on how we can help those of our leaders who are unethical to change their ways. file photo | nmg 

It’s good that as we approach our elections people have been talking about ethical leadership.

We’ve been hearing lots about ethical role models who should do the right thing in the right way; put the concerns of others above their own; and make the hard, unpopular decisions when needed. Such people won’t tear their communities apart; won’t allow the ends to justify the means; and won’t preach water and drink wine. We hear even more about how dreadfully unethical so many of our leaders are.

But what’s lacking is an equally vibrant discourse on how we can help those of our leaders who are unethical to change their ways, and reinforce those who despite all the temptations and the impunity do behave ethically. Many ethical leaders exist in Kenya — I interact with such worthy folk all the time. But, not least in the public sector and in activities that interact with that world, because the ethical ones hold back from taking the short cuts the less uninhibited find only too easy to go for, they tend not to be among the most senior or influential in their organisations.

This was the challenge I addressed as I ran a session for the Kenya School of Government’s Strategic Leadership Development Programme (SLDP) on the subject of ethical leadership. I genuinely assumed that those in the room were indeed ethical, but speculated that they found it challenging to hold on to their values — as a result of the actions of colleagues in their workplaces whose priority was other than delivering services to the public. Indeed too often it is the ethical ones who end up being frustrated, who suffer as they try to go about their work in a proper way.