I interrupted my leadership series to write an essay for a Channel 4 competition on news events of 2011. This caused me to reflect on the news events of 2011 and what they reflect about leadership. The ones that readily come to mind are: the MPs expenses scandal, the London riots and the phone hacking scandal which is presently continuing with the Leveson enquiry.
During all these news headlines, what struck me was how a lack of integrity characterised the events and even how the events were high-lighted.
There seemed to me to be lacking, something fundamental that says that great privilege comes with great responsibility and integrity is essential to striking that balance.
I sat through most of the select committee hearings (not literally of course, they were televised) on the hacking scandal and was struck by how all the players lied, lied and told even more lies, some of which were instantly unbelievable. You didn’t need to be an expert lie detector to know that when James Murdoch claimed not to be aware of just how much a £1,000,000,000.00 pay out reflected how badly they wanted a problem to go away, he was being extremely economical with the truth!
The members of the committee and I were equally baffled when the then Commissioner of police, Sir Paul Stephenson, insisted that he could see nothing wrong with accepting hospitality at Champneys as he claimed it helped him recover and get back to work more quickly. The members of the committee where so baffled that the asked the same question several times, as if they couldn’t believe what they were hearing!
That such a senior civil servant would believe this to be a legitimate excuse was so unbelievable to me that it made me question his integrity. I’m sure he knew, as a senior public servant, that even the appearance of impropriety is grounds to question the judgement of senior members of the government and in the end that’s why he had to go. However, I think it was disingenuous of him to pretend that he was a victim of some sort of witch hunt, as evidenced in his resignation speech when he engaged in finger-pointing. Especially as it had come to light just how much the News of the World relied on the police for their scoops!
The result of his resignation was that some weeks later, the Metropolitan Police had to face the most challenging event of the year without Sir Paul Stephenson who had, by all accounts been a good operational leader of the police service.
Then there were those MPs who helped themselves, above and beyond what even the most generous minded person would consider reasonable expenses. Of course the vast majority of MPs were honest, or at least operated within the rules or tacit permission given to them, but obviously at least a couple were dishonest, which resulted in fraud convictions. Setting the convictions aside, which of course are bad enough, what I find even more galling was the inability of some of them to grasp the seriousness of their conduct. Eric Illsley claimed he was a scapegoat and had only done the same as other MPs !
Integrity is very important in an accountable society, because sooner or later, the truth will out. A lack of integrity in leadership has a negative impact on a lot of people some of whom are entirely innocent. So if you aspire to leadership, why not follow Mahatma Ghandi’s advice, ‘There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics.’
Lets hope 2012 is a better year all round!