Quo vadis? Where are you going?
If we put the question to the world, there is no answer. If we put it to the Western democracies, the answers are less than convincing given the political, socio-economic, and environmental crises facing them. And in the corporate world, endemic short-termism and greed, along with the corruption and inefficiency of government regulators, mean that the only visionary answers will come from isolated pockets of creativity and compassion.
If we don’t know where we are going, we clearly have a crisis of leadership. In a world where misleaders appear to outnumber leaders, what is to be done? It is certainly not a matter of learning leadership skills — that is being done in every sector to no avail. What is required is the resolution of courageous men and women to pick up the gauntlet and lead like they mean it.
Where are you going? You are called to lead yourself, lead your family, and to be a leader in your workplace and the community. Only you can decide where you are going, and that is the first thing a leader would do. Here are the guidelines:
No going back: No leader in history has succeeded in turning back the clock, and the same lesson applies in business. There are always many positive ideas we can lift from the past and apply to present exigencies, but a wholesale restoration of an allegedly perfect past never works in a world that is constantly changing. History moves on and so must we.
No easy answers: Leadership is hard, a fact often forgotten in a world addicted to the quick fix. Fool-proof formulae and template solutions stifle genuine creativity, and try to hide the truth about life being a challenge that demands self-control and sacrifice. Risk, trade-offs, and frustration attend any attempt to make things better, and courage is essential in leaders.
No place to hide: In every human endeavour the possibility of failure and of people being hurt is always there — but only the cynic says there is no hope of finding a better way forward. The human response, the leadership imperative, is to step forward, bold and resolute, seeking the best for all people.
Know where to turn: In a crisis, knowing where to turn can be a challenge, especially at a time when personal choice is the supreme value, and standing on principle is ridiculed as archaic. Yet it is to our principles that we must turn, because integrity without principle is impossible; and leadership without integrity is a lie.
Know thyself: With relentless logic, the Socratic imperative to know thyself and Kant’s three questions are raised again. What you stand for ultimately determines who you are, and the choice is yours alone. Those foundational principles, your worldview, provide the framework that determines the form and quality of your culture — that is, the self-driven education, which determines whether you are equipped for leadership or not. Any inadequacy or perversion sets you up for either abdication of responsibility or for misleadership. Personal integrity can only be built on solid principles.
Know reality: The trouble with reality is that there is too much to know. For all of us, especially in this age of specialisation, this means that ignorance is a large part of our lives, which is why education should continue throughout life. Knowledge helps overcome intolerance, prejudice, and injustice, and it presupposes an objective reality about which we can know the truth.
Modern scepticism and relativism have undermined this common sense view of life, and trust has been eroded as a consequence. Promiscuity, family breakdown, the exploitation of innocents, political betrayal, exploitation and manipulation in business, and an epidemic of deceit are the bitter fruits of this attack on truth. No wonder relationships are under siege.
And that is all society is — a complex web of relationships. Destroy them and you destroy civil society, leaving a void that can only be filled by totalitarian tyranny or a barbarous anarchy, both of which are live possibilities today.
It goes without saying that words like ‘thinking’, ‘future’, ‘vision, ‘strategy’, and ‘freedom’ are meaningless if there is no such thing as truth. Without truth, trust itself has no meaning. A world without trust is a world set up for misleaders, because control can then only be imposed by violence and the lie.
The choice is always the same: on the one hand, self-control; on the other, authoritarianism or anarchy. Either be motivated by love, or constrained by law. This is why the five criteria for a humane worldview and the seven virtues are indispensable. Whatever the shape of the future we wish to build, they are the conditions for mutual trust, the essential ingredients for fulfilling relationships.
Know what to do: To be a leader in a world of misleaders, you have to constantly evaluate your worldview, auditing your attitudes and cultivating the seven virtues. You have to drive your own on-going education, with truth as your criterion, and ideology a sworn enemy. And you have to be decisive and action-oriented, unleashing your own creativity and that of others. Most of all, you have to demonstrate that you want the best – for everyone, and from everyone.
Know there is hope: The acid test of leadership is hope. Where there is no hope, there is no leadership. Pick up the gauntlet, and make a difference, doing “what you can, with what you have, where you are.” In any age, it is the principled, creative action of leaders in homes, schools, communities, and workplaces, that helps the world move forward. Of course, it’s easy to dismiss this kind of thinking as idealistic, but what could be more practical than making a decisive change for the good of all by ordering your own life according to the principles of love and service?
The above is a précis of Chapter Eleven of Leaders and Misleaders by Andre van Heerden and is the final article.