Leadership Standards: Industry and Politics

Super-rich corporate CEO’s can hide behind slick ads and slogans, but it’s wrong for a political candidate to try and do the same.

These words present an interesting view of American Leadership today. And it points to a distinction drawn according to the arena in which a leader is playing.

The line above arrived in my in-box from Steve Glazer, the Campaign Manager for Jerry Brown, who is running for Governor here in California. I found the words disturbing (as intended), but perhaps in more ways than the author expected. The idea continued to nag and to haunt me throughout the day, and I was eventually forced by some nagging notion to give it some more consideration.

But let us switch gears for a moment…

The Foundation of Leadership

Most of the world’s people ascribe to one religion or another. And whether we are a follower of the teachings of the main ideas of Christ, Buddha, or Mohamed, all teachings of the major religions share a common thread.  Many of our beliefs about right and wrong arose directly from these teachings, and have endured through the centuries because most people believe they hold some significant and meaningful value that benefits people and the societies in which they live. For many, these ancient teachings still serve as the guidebooks to daily life and living.

Although said in slightly different words, the common thread within all three teachings can be summed up as the Golden Rule:

Wikipedia describes The Golden Rule as “an ethical code that states one has a right to just treatment, and a responsibility to ensure justice for others. It is also called the ethic of reciprocity. A key element of the golden rule is that a person attempting to live by this rule treats all people, not just members of his or her in-group, with consideration.”

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The Root of the Meltdown

When I first moved from journalism into sales, I approached the subject of selling much like any other subject.  I took courses, read books, and attended a variety of seminars and trainings. My  personal favorites included the teachings of Dale Carnegie, author of  How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleOg Mandino, author of  The Greatest Salesman in the World;  and Napoleon Hill, author of  Think and Grow Rich.

Unlike today, where we primarily refer to spreadsheets, charts, and graphs to decide our annual sales strategies, we previously relied more on a relatively simple philosophy of how best to do business. This is the basic tenets involved in how we see and treat others as we traveled the path to success.

In a much more recent lecture on Enlightened Leadership given at MIT, the Dalai Lama rejected the notion that the economic meltdown (from which we are still attempting to recover) was caused by market forces and instead names the causes as human behaviors—(describing both as ) greed, pride, and hypocrisy.

I doubt he was referring to any specific person in this address, but rather to those at the helms of large businesses and institutions.

A Question We Must Ask

Rethinking the distinction between the Leaders of Industry and those wishing to lead in political arenas, we must ask the question:

When did the transaction of business become exempt from The Golden Rule, and when the exemption become acceptable in the minds of John Q Public?

Why is it that Corporate CEOs  can hide from responsibility? And why should their actions be considered any less “wrong” than our  politicians’, particularly considering the power and influence corporations wield in America (and American politics) today?

Why has it become acceptable that corporations (their leaders) and businesses, in general, are allowed to work under a different set of values, ethics, and principles than politicians (or everyday people) with little or no consequences?

Should the values of a society be reflected in all aspects of that society or have corporations become our new, and unquestioned, sacred cows?

Big Business has become too big to fail, we’re told.  If this is true, does it not seem logical that we should take a closer look at who is at the helm and examine the type of leadership principles they demonstrate?  Should they be any less accountable than anyone else, or does the label “Business” justify all sorts of “selfish and greedy” behavior that we would find unacceptable in any other individual?

The Corporate Takeover

The email I received was intended as a call for actionMeg Whitman, of eBay fame, rejected Jerry Brown’s invitation to a bi-partisan debate before the primary. According to news reports, she has spent over $59  million dollars of her own money in a barrage of television ads that seem to either promote herself or disparage her opponents. In her newest television ad, titled “Doing,” Meg says government needs to be run “a little bit more like a business.”

Now, I have no particular preference for either Brown or Whitman. Regardless, in light of our recent economic meltdown, and until we arrive at a consensus of what leadership is or does, I find the prospect of our government run more like a business more than a little frightening.

Who is left to bail out the government if it is run by the same people we entrusted to lead our largest institutions? How many failed business leaders are at the helms of our nation today, and how is it working out? And of course by “failure”, I mean in a particular sense: Public trust and personal responsibility.

According to the Dalai Lama we need to ”not think in terms of “we and them .

All of humanity needs to come forward to solve the world’s problems.

Does it really serve our interests (or those of the whole of humanity) to have a different set of expectations, ethics, or guiding principles for Corporate CEO’s and the “Captains of Industry”, than those we have established for our elected officials?

Bookmark Leadership Standards: Industry and Politics

Jacqueline Ayad is Business Consultant at Aeon Alliance Business Consulting
She helps clients with management consulting
Email | LinkedIn

Edited by Mike Weppler

Image Sources: boxturtlebulletin.com

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4 responses to “Leadership Standards: Industry and Politics

  1. Pingback: Leadership Standards: Industry and Politics « Linked 2 Leadership | americantoday·

  2. No, we should require that all officials, whether private or public, adhere to the code of ethics in which we generally accept as suitable. As you point out in your post, corporations yield tremendous power in America, sometimes more than politicians, and their leaders should therefore be expected to exhibit morally correct behavior. The question is, how can we enforce this ethical requirement and who is to decide what is ethically correct or not?

    The truth is that we cannot truly impeach CEO’s or other business leaders due to their actions, granted they stay in within the laws, but we can bring their actions to the public eye, causing them to think more about what they do.

    As far as the California election goes this year, I wasn’t impressed with any of the candidates and am especially weary of Whitman. She is just a rich businesslady who felt like she needed something to do in retirement imo. The fact that she says California needs to be run more like a business should send shivers down every Californian’s spine, especially given the current affairs of many of our businesses. I hope we don’t make the same mistake that we did with Schwarzenegger and put the person who has the most clout in office. We saw what that did.



  3. Some valid points. What is interesting to note is when leaders in business fail, they are demonized such as with BP, but when leaders in government fail, they are just made a mistake and then want more money in taxes for their mistakes.


    • Hi Leanne,

      I concur with your thoughts!

      I would also add that when looking at systems to run societies, a free society that has a nimble way to oust leaders (or products, services and processes that cause problems, that no longer work, or need replacing) will provide the greatest return for its people. Free capital markets are the most responsive and decisive when it comes to serving the greatest number of people. They are not perfect, simply the best way to serve the most people. Leaders cannot hide from evil very long in these environments so long as a free and honorable press can remain so.



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