Who Leads, Serves

Opinions - March 6th, 2009

by Ian de Stains OBE

In a recent column I wrote about the fact that happiness often comes from being in service to others. What I didn’t touch on was another extraordinary thing: that, being willing and able to serve is one of the qualities that mark out great leaders, whether they be political, corporate, or community. Great leaders are everything our neighboring Dear Leader is not. They embrace change, they know how to listen (really listen as opposed to just hearing: didn’t Drucker say that the secret to real communication is hearing what isn’t being said?). They are not afraid to take risks if necessary, or admit to their mistakes (cue drum roll for Obama). In terms of demonstrating leadership, vulnerability can be its own strength. On the other hand, the need always to be right (cue drum roll for just about the entire Bush White House) may be soon as a flaw of heroic propensity. If you are interested in exploring more of why this is so—and have the stomach for it—read the February issue of Vanity Fair for an extraordinary piece on the departing White House squad.

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently; more precisely the lack of it. After all, isn’t the mess we’re in a consequence of just that? If the so-called leaders on Wall Street had been more focused on serving the economy at large instead of sating their own avarice, we might have been spared the worst of this crisis. If, instead of serving the nation’s needs, fewer so-called leaders of industry had focused on trying to defend their patently indefensible bonuses, fewer hard­working people of ordinary means would have suffered the loss of their homes and pensions. And what of the so-called leaders of the US auto industry, who for the past decade and more have been about as creatively productive as the most wrist-a-blurr teenage boy? Yet  they turned up in private jets to ask Washington for public money to finance still further self-indulgence. Didn’t you feel the need to throw a shoe or two?

Leadership is about integrity; it is about

authenticity. Those who claim leadership

must demonstrate both if they are to be credible.

Leadership is about integrity; it is about authenticity. Those who claim leadership must demonstrate both if they are to be credible. The higher the authority such leadership claims, I he more potent must be that credibility. So what to make of a man who purports to represent what millions claim as the ultimate authority, voicing support for another who denies one of the greatest ever crimes against humanity? I speak of course of the Pope’s rehabilitation of a British born Bishop who has publicly claimed that there were no gas chambers in the Nazi concentration camps; that millions of Jews, gypsies, gays, and handicapped people were not slaughtered at the command of another man once hailed as a great leader. Appointing such an individual to preside over a congregation demonstrates about as much leadership as putting Herod in charge of the kindergarten.

Ian de Stains, OBE is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. He is also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and Convenor of its Japan Chapter.