Can it really be the case that we can’t find a “best qualified” person for a major leadership position like Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of Health and Human Services, who does not also have characteristics such as honesty, integrity, and humility on his or her résumé? We were asked during the past few weeks to overlook the nonpayment of taxes by two Cabinet nominees, because they have special “skill sets”. When I hear that, I feel the need to promote, in a nonpartisan way, a higher standard of public leadership.
Throughout my career, I have met thousands of leaders in government, nonprofit organizations, and business who pay their taxes and honestly fulfill other community obligations. Tom Daschle (who withdrew his nomination this morning) and Tom Geithner might be fine fellows and in some ways deserving of appointments as Cabinet Secretaries. However, it’s difficult for me to believe that nobody among 300 million Americans comes a close second to them – with most of their competencies, plus the “competence” of honesty.
Our President proposes an infusion of cash into the economy to combat the economic recession we experience. But the roots of the recession, which now causes such pain in our local communities, do not lie in a shortage of cash. More cash will not prevent the recurrence of the problems we now have. Ethical leadership, on the other hand, does offer the prospect both to get us out of this mess and prevent it from occurring again.
Our President has the opportunity to stimulate and reinvigorate the moral fiber among decision-makers and leaders in government, nonprofits, and business. If he seizes that opportunity, the resulting effects in our local communities, and among all people from the most powerful to the most vulnerable, will at least equal the impact of an $800 billion dollar “economic stimulus” package.
Treating honesty and integrity as core qualifications for high-level leaders, rather than just a nice addition, might seem unusual. However, what if “well-qualified” Wall Street CEOs had honestly communicated with their shareholders, the government, and the general public? What if “well-qualified” bankers had conducted honest appraisals of risk? What if “well-qualified” individuals had been honest with themselves and others?
If a lot of honesty had flowed through our power networks, the crisis in our economic networks – which battered the retirement savings plans and college savings accounts and home ownership of millions of honest and hardworking people – might not have occurred.
We need economic stimulus in some way, shape, and form. But without moral/ethical stimulus of our leaders, we will fail to achieve the long-term quality of life that our communities deserve.