By George W Nyabadza
FACILITATING an international seminar on leadership and integrity is a deeply engaging experience, especially where the setting consists of 52 accredited leaders from countries and cultu
res as far afield and diverse as Indonesia, India, Singapore, Ivory Coast, the Ukraine, Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Haiti, Barbados, South Africa, Zambia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Malaysia, Mauritius, Burundi and Ethiopia and where the individual professions include senior corporate business executives, judges, lawyers, partners in “big five” accounting firms, medical doctors, engineers, pastors, entrepreneurs, and even members of parliament.
The level of engagement goes beyond the purely academic and becomes experiential and transformational. I always leave this kind of seminar much the wiser from the valuable experiences and insights gained. As I reflect on the just-ended seminar held on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui, my thoughts turn to the common challenges that hinder the development of what is commonly described as “third world” countries – bribery, corruption, sexual immorality, disintegrating family structures and abuse of power across all structures of society (political, religious, business).
By the way, the term “third world” is for me an unpalatable label for the countries referred to. Admittedly the levels of development differ significantly between countries and continents but to put nations in a basket labeled “third world” is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy as the cycle of being number three is perpetuated by the thinking structures and processes that accompany accepting being “third world”.
However, that is another debate altogether but for now let’s leave it in inverted commas. Undoubtedly, integrity challenges are not the preserve of just the “third world” countries. However, for the leaders I interacted with there seemed to be a common thread of integrity challenges faced on a daily basis, to such an extent that in most countries these scourges are beginning to be perceived as “institutionalised”. Bribery and corruption for example are subtly condoned in some countries because government officials are poorly paid and are therefore “expected” to augment their meagre incomes illicitly.
In a similar vein, despite the advent of Aids and related diseases, sexual and family values have been eroded to such an extent that husbands and wives regularly cheat on each other resulting in family break-ups, single parenting and a proliferation of drugs and crime as one of the off-spins. But there is an even bigger problem from my perspective – business executives who do not need to augment their income through corrupt activities seem to do so out of basic greed and avarice in blatant and fragrant abuse of their power, position and authority.
If you want case studies to support the above have a look around you. Zimbabwe is not the only one to have been a victim of this lack of integrity by our business leaders. Ever heard of the “Lords of Poverty” – the billionaires created out of corrupt re-routing of the billions of dollars meant as food relief to Ethiopia’s drought stricken millions? Same thing. Each of the countries mentioned above can provide you with a litany of case studies to demonstrate the lack of integrity but also to support the thesis that I am developing here that as long as no one speaks out against the lack of integrity in the marketplace, that’s my primary focus today, the problem will continue to the detriment of society as a whole.
The lack of integrity across all the nations present seems to be sourced in a lack of deep spiritual values. The cheating spouse, the corrupt official, the power-abusive leader and the immoral business person all seem to share one common value – an ego driven persona, whereas all examples cited of positive stewardship and leadership seem to point to spiritual values that put others and community before the self, the essence of servant leadership.
Where real transformation is taking place leaders of integrity have taken the bull by the horn and are challenging lack of integrity amongst business leaders. Organisations are being challenged to justify why the abusive, immoral, corrupt leader should lead them. Many previously “untouchable” industry captains are losing their posts to leaders of integrity. It’s a painful and slow process to effectively implement but at least it stems the rot.