She explains that, in her experience, the moment her programme graduates learn that leadership is not an exercise of power over others but rather a responsibility to others, their self-interest decreases substantially. The surprising impact is that it also exponentially increases the control of their destiny, seen through improved school results or the roles they take in their communities.
Another view is that of Rabbi David Lapin, the global business leadership strategist who helped draft SA’s first Code of Ethics for the first King Report. He believes ethical leadership resides “in the injunction of doing no harm, something that appears so simple until you try to offset the very different needs of the four stakeholders that make up any business: the shareholders, the employees, the customers, and the communities.”
He suggests a simple mantra to follow: “We serve the customers, not the shareholders. We reward the shareholders; we support our staff to serve the customers, and we improve our communities.”
Sounds simple enough, right?
However, what happens when there is a trade-off between profit and prosperity?
Instead, let’s choose to follow the teaching of Colin Mayer, Saïd Oxford Business School’s former dean. He advises to instead focus on creating prosperity, making money to reinvest as a means to create more opportunities, not as a means in itself. That’s notably more relevant in a country with the extent of unequal wealth distribution, like South Africa.
As a nation, we could all benefit if we remember ubuntu, the teaching that we exist because of others, not because of ourselves. It calls on us as leaders, to empower people – rather than prescribe.
Ethics is about doing the right thing – all of the time. It’s not something that can be written down, because the law is full of loopholes – instead, it’s about standing for what is right, regardless.
We each have a role in upholding a culture of ethics, within our economy and society-at-large. If we are serious about re-energising an economy ruined by State Capture, corruption, and corporate collusion, we need to start doing things differently.