Every day leaders make decisions that are shaped by their values. Some of them are small, affecting a few people for a short time. Others are large, setting the long-term direction of an organization or a community. And still others are deeper and even more enduring, determining who they are as moral persons and the shape of the world in which they and future generations will live. In looking at ethical leadership for a changing world, we are left, therefore, to ponder the question posed by Socrates, "What is a virtuous man, and what is a virtuous society?" Of course, today we are more likely to ask "What is a virtuous man or woman and is it possible to build a virtuous society?"
It is not my intention to try and answer that question in this one lecture, but I want to speak instead about the changing role of ethics in public life and its implication for leadership in the new millennium. I want to argue: 1) that a new moral consciousness is dawning in which ordinary people who strive to live morally are now insisting that their institutions do the same; 2) that while we have often used ethics to humanize and domesticate power, we now live in an era where ethics is power; and 3) that the private virtues which gave us our moral strength at the dawning of independent nation states must now be transformed into public values appropriate for an interdependent world that is integrating and fragmenting at the same time.
Let me turn first to the idea that the focus on private virtues that saw the emergence of a small, but noisy group of virtuecrats near the end of the last century is likely to be matched in the new millennium by a focus on the public values that drive our institutions and empower leaders. Francis Fukayama, who burst into national attention a few years ago with a book entitled The End of History, has written a new book in which he draws on the latest sociological data and new theoretical models from fields as diverse as economics and biology to argue that though the old order has broken apart, a new social order is already taking shape. Western society, he contends, is weaving together a new fabric of social and moral values appropriate to the changed realities of the postindustrial world.
To re-state Fukayama's argument in my own language is to say that for more than a decade now, we have been preoccupied with the micro-ethics of individual behavior, the private virtues that build character. We must now give as much attention to the macro-ethics of large institutions and systems, the public values that build community. You may not agree with the tactics of some of the demonstrators who gather at meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but it should not deflect from the reality that more and more people are concerned about how large institutions of all sort impact on their cultures, their communities and general well- being. They want to know whether or not these institutions have a moral center.
I think I hear the same voices and see the same changes in the moral ecology of the twenty first century that Fukayama is writing about. The need is not only for perspective in our political and cultural life, but in our organizational and institutional life as well. For some time, we have been romanticizing small local units as faster, more focused, more flexible, more friendly and more fun - to borrow the five Fs that have made the rounds of organizational theory. According to this view, small units can best get close to the customer, the member or the citizen. They can be less bureaucratic and more personal. Local groups are, thus, the easy part. Their members tend to share a history and a geographic tie. They can identify with their neighbors and they know each other's faces.
We live, however, in an age of non-geographic communities and huge systems - organized industrial production, global communications, organized bureaucracies, organized benevolence and even organized crime. We will need to balance the natural preference for the small and informal with an understanding of when it is necessary to have organized systems, when it is necessary to have a strong center in order to adequately and effectively service the parts and what social values are appropriate for whatever options we choose.
Why this renewed preoccupation with values in public life? How should the new national discourse take place? To ask these questions is to raise again the full question posed by Socrates "What is a virtuous man and what is a virtuous society which educates virtuous men" There are many voices urging the return of the public intellectual who can speak sense both to colleagues in academia and to fellow citizens in the larger society. Certainly, all of us on campus and in the community need to help de-politicize the public discussion of values, to help make it less partisan. It is all too often the case that those who speak most loudly about promoting "good values" are those who want simply to argue that someone else - Democrats, Republicans, poor people and others - has "bad values." It is time for us to apply the concept of virtue in ways that uplift rather than downgrade, heal rather than hurt, build rather than destroy.
What then should the next generation of moral habits encompass? William Bennett found that writing about virtue could be lucrative when he identified ten virtues that he considered essential to good character: self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty and faith.
This is a good list, but we cannot permit the discussion of values to focus only on the micro- ethics of individual behavior. We need to be equally concerned with the macro-ethics of large social institutions, including government, business and the institutions of civil society now playing such a major role in shaping public policy and public priorities. Much has been made of the breakdown of families and there is a lot of talk about family values, but except for the writings of the largely academic communitarian thinkers, not enough attention has been given to the breakdown of communities and how social virtues often serve as a prerequisite to the development of individual virtues.
While there are those who would argue that it is difficult to separate public values from private virtues, and they are largely correct, I am reminded of how often Martin Luther King spoke of the need to link the individual's duty to embrace the responsibilities of citizenship with the obligation to act in concert with others to ensure citizenship rights. He sought to transform both individuals and society.
So how would a lexicon of public values look. A few years ago, a public opinion polling firm was asked by the Kettering Foundation to convene focus groups to find out how Americans feel about multiculturalism and diversity. The first question asked was what does it mean to be an American. The respondents did not answer in terms of geography or genetics, ideology or theology, but in terms of the commitment to a set of values. When the question was first asked, people initially thought in terms of freedom - freedom of speech, religion, and the freedom to better yourself economically. Of course, after listening to the platitudes, one man said "We Americans have been arrogant since 1492." After deliberating for a while, people tended to expand their notion of what it means to be an American to include, in addition to freedom, an array of other values such as tolerance, respect for others, and even the appreciation of diversity. The pollsters concluded that bringing a diverse group together to deliberate makes people more sensitive to diversity. Amatai Etzioni has called, therefore, for a megalogue, society-wide dialogues that link community dialogues into one national dialogue.
The only public dialogue we have had about values has really centered around William Bennett's Book of Virtues that he wrote to emphasize the ten traits he considered essential to good character. I have found it useful in my public life to think in terms of ten public values essential to community. They require no special moral training or theological literacy to be understood, for they are part of the basic values necessary for the orderly functioning of community.
Bennett's private virtues constitute a good starting point for identifying rudimentary forms of private morality, but while they are indispensable for individuals, far more is needed for a complex community or an interdependent society to thrive. The issues and problems of public life are greatly aggravated by the fact that we are constantly dealing with people and systems with which we have no direct personal relationship. Personal responsibility is in many ways diluted. The directors of a business corporation are individual persons, for example, but they are being asked to think as directors or shareholders. The private virtues to which they are committed may help them assess and monitor the private behavior of the chief executive, but where are they to find moral guidance in deciding on dividends, the welfare of the workers or the obligation to the community in which the company operates.
The decision about dividends, like the decision about profits and where to locate a new plant, is likely to be regarded as morally neutral, but is it? If a decision affects the welfare of people, it is likely to require moral judgment and can not be neatly separated from moral choices. I do not have time to develop the argument for the ten social values I would place along side William Bennett's ten virtues, but I am delighted that Bennett included compassion on his list because it has become an important part of our national discourse about leadership. Like Adam Smith who wrote The Wealth of Nations, I would begin my own list of public values with empathy, a prerequisite for compassion and fundamental to building community. When Adam Smith set out to develop a basic theory about how human beings could transact business with each other in an orderly and predictable fashion, he set forth the principle of empathy, the ability to feel what another person is feeling. Knowing what gives others joy because we know what gives ourselves joy and pain became the unstated basis for his economic theory in The Wealth of Nations.
Smith is remembered best for what he had to say about economics, but he was a moral philosopher before he was an economist. He wrote A Theory of Moral Sentiments before he wrote his better-known work on economics. His economic theories were based on his ideas about moral community, especially the notion that the individual has the moral duty to have regard for his fellow human beings.
Like Smith, Fukayama ties social values to economic prosperity. In a second book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, he argues that there is a relationship between social values like trust and the prosperity of nations. The greatness of this country, he maintains, was built not on the imagined ethos of individualism but on the cohesiveness of its civil associations, the strength of its communities and the moral bonds of social trust. He warns that a radical departure from that tradition holds more peril for the future of American prosperity than any competition from abroad. Both Adam Smith and Francis Fukuyama are, thus, arguing that the affirmation and practice of certain public values are not only a moral imperative but in our national interest.
We might have described this notion of trust and otherly regard in a more innocent age as the associated virtues of love. But the "L" word love, once the central imperative of social ethics, seems to have been banished from the public discussion of values. We rarely ask in government, business or civil society, "what is the most loving thing to do?" It may be useful to remember that in Plato's inquiry into virtue he came to associate it with goodness. In one of his dialogues, Socrates meets the eminent Sophist Protagoras, who explains that his profession is the teaching of goodness. In the subsequent exchange, the foundation of the moral imperatives that have come to undergird the notion of civil society was laid. The emphasis is not simply on knowing the good, but doing the good.
It is, thus, not surprising that in the Republic, the concern with virtue comes to focus on justice and kindness. Without a commitment to the promise of justice and the practice of kindness, virtue remains a concept with little context. Yet, today's virtuecrats rarely mention justice. Like the "L" word love, the "J" word justice seems to be missing in action. Love thy neighbor as one loves thyself is still good advice. But an abstract value void of committed action does little to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility or promote the general welfare. The most often repeated example of compassion is the story of the Good Samaritan in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. A traveler comes upon a man on the side of the road who had been badly beaten. He stops and provides aid and comfort. But suppose this same man traveled the same road for a week and each day he discovered in the same spot someone badly beaten. Wouldn't he be compelled to ask who has responsibility for policing the road? His initial act of compassion must inevitably lead to public policy. It is this progression from private compassion to public action that is often missing in our discussion of private virtue. Genuine compassion requires that we not only ameliorate consequences, but we also seek to eliminate causes.
We come next to my second point about the changing role of ethics in public life. It is the assertion that while ethics has been used to domesticate and humanize power, we now live in a world where ethics is power. Many speak of the United States as a marriage of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome. They argue, quite correctly, that the strength of America has been its moral strength. According to Gertrude Himmelfarb, long before the founding of the American republic," those concerned with morality explained that "Virtue is the distinctive characteristic of a republic, as honor is of monarchy, and moderation of an aristocracy." I would now say much the same thing about values. We cannot long preserve the public ethos of America's founding without the simple understanding that while we used ethics in much of the twentieth century to domesticate and humanize power, in the twenty first century ethics is power.
We hear much these days about American military strength and American economic power, but there is very little discussion of the many ways the international system is changing and the implications for American power and influence. Many foreign policy analysts are appalled by the lack of realism in the allocation of our national budget and the lack of emphasis in our national security strategy on what is increasingly called soft power. In a July 1999 article in the Foreign Affairs journal, Professor Joseph Nye, who heads the Kennedy School at Harvard, made an important distinction between "hard power" and "soft power." Hard power refers to the use of military might or economic muscle to influence and even coerce. Soft power refers to the ability to attract and influence through the flow of information and the appeal of social, cultural and moral messages. Hard power is the ability to get others to do what we want. Soft power is the ability to get others to want what we do. The former is based on coercion while the latter is based on attraction.
Military power in the world is unipolar, with the United States outstripping all others states. Economic power is multipolar, with the United States, Japan and Europe accounting for two- thirds of the world's production. Soft power is more widely dispersed. It crosses borders and is not dependent on military or economic power. A compelling message from a disaster area, a gross human rights violation, a military conflict or a story of hope and healing conveyed by the Internet or television can easily catapult new priorities into a nation's foreign policy. And that is why values may be the most fundamental and the most significant source of soft power.
The power that comes from being a "city on the hill" does not provide the coercive capability with which presidential candidates and most Americans identify, but in the new age of national security it can sometimes be the most influential. While greater pluralism in the mobilization and use of soft power may diminish the ability of the United States to impose its will through the use of hard power, the attractiveness of our institutions, the openness of our society and the values we espouse should continue to give us an edge in the new world of soft power; providing our people and our leaders recognize that while American military and economic advantages are great, they are neither unqualified nor permanent.
I saw the impact of soft power first hand during my tenure as United Sates Ambassador to South Africa; for Nelson Mandela represented the epitome of soft power. His moral standing and political stature in the world went far beyond that suggested by the size of the military or the Gross Domestic Product of South Africa. His influence came from the power of his humanity and the elegance of his spirit. His influence came from his message of reconciliation and the moral instinct embodied in his spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. He is the prototype of the leader whose influence comes not from military or economic might, but from the power of ideals and the ability to capture the minds and hearts of people in all corners and colors of the universe. Among the many lessons we should have learned from the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela is the fact that diplomacy increasingly depends on a moral ecology that can not be found in military or economic power.
It is not only governments that must come to understand that ethics is power. The same is true of multinational business. The Reverend Leon Sullivan, who authored the principles used in South Africa by those American corporations operating under the apartheid system, has been conferring with international organizations and businesses to come up with a global set of principles. He has been in conversation with multinational corporations from three continents, business associations, non-governmental organizations and national governments.
While several hundred companies have signed on, there are those who reject this exercise as fruitless or an attempt at self-aggrandizement or publicity, but there are others who feel strongly that signing and affirming these principles is not only right but in their company's self-interest. Many of these groups have pledged to develop and implement policies, procedures, training and internal reporting structures to ensure integrity and responsibility in the operation of business corporations. Here's what they are asking their colleagues in business to do:
1. Express support for universal human rights and, particularly, those of their employees,
the communities in which they operate, and the parties with whom they do business.
2. Promote equal opportunity for their employees at all levels of the company with respect to issues such as color, race, gender, age, ethnicity or religious beliefs, and operate without unacceptable worker treatment such as the exploitation of children, physical punishment, female abuse, involuntary servitude, or other forms of abuse.
3. Express support for the voluntary freedom of association of their employees.
4. Compensate employees at a level that enables them to meet at least their basic needs and provide the opportunity to improve their skill and capability in order to raise their social and economic opportunities.
5. Provide a safe and healthy workplace; protect human health and the environment; and promote sustainable development.
6. Promote fair competition including respect for intellectual and other property rights, and not offer, pay or accept bribes.
7. Work with communities in which they do business to improve the quality of life in those communities - their educational, cultural, economic and social well being - and seek to provide training and opportunities for workers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
8. Promote the application of those principles by those with whom they do business.
These are voluntary principles without any enforcement mechanisms except for the positive images enjoyed by those who sign them. Why, it might be asked, should a company bother? Given my own experience in international business and my service as an advocate for American business abroad, I am convinced that a sound set of principles can have an affect on the bottom line in at least five ways:
1. They build trust within the company and within the community. That trust translates into
loyalty, consistency and greater productivity.
2. They demonstrate that companies are only as good as its people and its policies. A company is what it rewards. It is not so much what it says in its mission statement or code of conduct as it is what it rewards its people for being. The performance review and reward system must reflect the values the company affirms.
3. Customers and consumers increasingly take note of company values. They like to know that they are doing business with a company that not only produces an excellent product or provides excellent service, but it is committed to fairness, honesty, integrity and the larger community. As international competition increases, companies that do things ethically, and are seen doing them, may have a competitive edge in some countries.
4. More and more shareholders also care about company values. The socially responsible movement, once laughed at and dismissed as a minor nuisance, is now a $650 billion movement and growing. According to Rush Kidder of the Global Ethics Institute, socially conscious investments now account for some ten percent of invested funds in the United States.
5. Self-regulation can make government regulation unnecessary. As President of the Council on Foundations, I frequently had to testify before Congressional committees on proposed legislation to regulate foundations. I often found a more sympathetic hearing when I could show that foundations were not only concerned about the matter under discussion, but also engaged in self-regulation.
Does responsible behavior affect the bottom line? I am convinced that it does and I believe that in the years ahead you will see increasing evidence that principles affect profits and have a powerful, practical and immediate impact on the bottom line.
We come now to my third point about the changing role of ethics in public life. Social ethics at the dawning of the nation-state helped us understand the obligations of the citizen to the state. We now need public values that will help us cope with an interdependent world that is integrating and fragmenting at the same time. A major contribution of social ethics at the birth of the nation state was to help citizens understand the implication of freedom from tyranny, particularly the social obligation of citizenship and the limits of freedom.
Consider for a moment, the evolving vision of citizenship. The earliest vision of democracy was that the people have the power. The evolving vision is that the people have the vote, which is no longer the same as having the power. The awakening of the sense of citizenship as obligation to a larger community came with the French and American revolution when the word signified in theory, but not in practice, the equal participation of everyone in a social contract. The notion of citizen is still evolving, but we can draw lessons for enlarging the meaning of citizenship from the almost unknown civic traditions of some of the groups that are transforming our national life.
Long before Alexis deTocqueville became the most quoted (and probably the least read) authority on American civic life, Benjamin Franklin had become so enamored with the political and civic culture of the Native Americans he met in Pennsylvania that he advised delegates to the 1754 Albany Congress to emulate the civic habits of the Iroquois. Long before Martin Luther King wrote his Letter From A Birmingham Jail, African American's had come to believe that the primary passion of the patriot should be the passion for justice, and that justice is often a precondition to order - where a people feel a stake in a community they are more likely to work for order and value tranquility. Long before Robert Bellah wrote Habits of the Heart, Neo- Confucians in the Chinese community were teaching their children that a community without benevolence invites its own destruction.
All of these traditions now join our evolving vision of public values, but understanding our obligations as citizens also requires an understanding of what it means to be members of a public. We need to keep in mind that instead of a well-defined, distinct public, many publics exist, and the idea of public good frequently depends on which public is defining the good. It is only in the broadest sense that we are able to speak of a mass public. In the recent presidential campaign, we were reminded often that there is a voting public, which is all too often only a small fraction of the mass public and there are issue publics who hold strong opinions and are often seeking influence.
We need students, graduates and faculty who are willing to be a voice for those publics who are poor, weak or marginalized; all those whom someone powerful might deem inconvenient or outside the circle of care. We need politicians who are willing to seek power to disperse it rather than simply concentrate it. We need community leaders who can, by example, convey the message that doing something for someone else - making the condition of others our own - is a powerful force in building community. When you experience the problem of the poor or troubled, when you help someone to understand the human condition through theater or dance, when you help someone to find meaning in a museum or creative expression in a painting, when you help someone to find housing or regain his health, you are far more likely to connect on a deeper level, and you are likely to gain a sense of self-worth in the process.
Robert Putnam, who writes about the declining role of social capital in a democracy, Amitai Etzioni, who argues that shared values are essential for social solidarity and community and Robert Bellah, who wrote about his fears of a democracy without citizens, are all pointing to the importance of what Alexis deTocqueville once described as the habits of the heart of the American people; the tendency to form voluntary groups to meet social needs and to solve social problems. We now know that when neighbors help neighbors and even when strangers help strangers both those who help and those who are helped are transformed. When that which was "their" problem becomes "our" problem, a new relationship is established and new forms of community are possible.
And here we can learn a lot from the South African people about building community. Their emphasis on reconciliation may be at the heart of our search for public values appropriate for a world that is integrating and fragmenting at the same time. To live together in community is to be constantly engaged in connecting or re-connecting with those who differ not simply in race or religion, but tradition and theology as well as politics and philosophy. Where there is diversity, there is likely to be alienation and separation. Conflicts are inevitable and social relationships are constantly threatened and broken.
Reconciliation, thus, becomes as highly prized a value in the age of interdependence as freedom was in the scramble for independence. Reconciliation has to do with re-establishing or sustaining a connection to a wider community. There is an implicit notion of brokenness, a relationship that needs to be built or rebuilt. But the estrangement individuals and communities face can be moral as well as social and political. In South Africa, reconciliation is both a public value and a public process. It is fused into the political culture of those who govern, the theology of those who claim a new moral authority and the ancestral tradition of those who now have the lead in building a new society. The commitment to a reconciling society has deep roots in the African experience. In the worse days of apartheid, the African National Congress wrote into its charter that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. These words also found their way into the new constitution.
There is among black South Africans a traditional concept of community called ubuntu. It assumes that all of humanity is bound together into a relationship that is bigger than any individual or group. This notion of community is best expressed in the Xhosi proverb Archbishop Tutu likes to quote, "People are people through other people." It follows that to deny the dignity or seek to diminish the humanity of another person is to destroy one's own. This is the message so badly needed in a world where the more interdependent we become the more people are turning inward to smaller communities of meaning and memory. This may, at first glance, appear to be reason for anxiety and even despair, but I am increasingly convinced as I travel around the world that the search for beginnings, the focus on remembering and re- grouping, may simply be a necessary and natural stage of the search for common ground. People are demanding respect for their primary community of history and heritage before they can more fully embrace a larger community of function and formality.
With so much happening in so many places, with so many pressing needs within the American borders and beyond, and with so many conflicts still to be resolved, many Americans still feel the tug of separateness, of ultimate loyalties devoted exclusively to their own group. Yet, while it is only natural to feel an affinity with those whom we share a special heritage and a special history, it is time that we learn to see ourselves and our group, not through the haze of parochial emotions, but against the backdrop of a larger vision and as part of a larger community.
So let me conclude by suggesting that we can not understand nor appreciate the changing role of ethics in public life without trying to understand the many voices urging a return of respect for the spiritual dimension, without trying to understand why religion is playing such a large role in public life. Many people, whether they are Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jew or some other expression of a spiritual connection, are coming to believe that we are not here alone, that we do not exist for ourselves alone, that we are a part of something bigger and more mysterious than ourselves.
It is not yet clear what role religion will play in the search for either common ground or public values, but there are many reasons to believe that the search for a higher level of being is a reflection of the human condition. And it may be that it is the common search, rather than our different answers, that will provide the basis of our unity. And that is why I am so pleased to have been given this opportunity to address the subject of the changing role of ethics in public life.
As we look to the future, it is clear that the ethical issues with which policymakers now struggle are tame compared to some of the issues on the horizon. It is now reliably predicted, for example, that within five years either a U.S. government agency or a private corporation (perhaps both) will have in a desktop computer the entire human gene decoded. Policy analysts and ethicists will then be arguing over the implications of extending the human life span for Americans beyond 150 years, at the same time that the AIDS virus and other infectious diseases devastate populations in Africa and elsewhere. I hope that the emerging community of leadership educators, the institutes they develop and the students they teach, will be prepared to handle the new generation of public policy issues as well as the old.
But even more fundamentally, I hope the new leadership industry is prepared to handle the diversity that will characterize leadership in the new millennium. Although the present leadership climate may appear at first glance to be a leadership vacuum, it is more likely that we have simply been looking in the wrong places for leadership. If we have learned anything from those who are building new societies in Eastern Europe, Southern Africa and Central America, it is that the next generation of leaders is not likely to fit the traditional mold, nor are those leaders likely to be found in traditional places.
The days of looking for leaders with the right endorsements and the right credentials as defined by an established elite are hopefully nearing an end. The leaders of the future are not likely to come riding out of the sunset on white charges - heroes without heroism. Many will instead be ordinary people with extraordinary commitments. Their styles will be different. Their accents will be different and so will their color and complexion. We do not yet know much about these emerging leaders, but we know enough about the changing role of ethics in public life to suggest at least these four conclusions:1. The demographic changes are creating a demand for a new group of leaders who seek power in order to disperse it rather than simply hold it. The demand is for leaders who understand what it means to share power rather than simply dominate it. Those who seek power to concentrate it may ultimately lose it to those who seek it only to diffuse it.
In the midst of all the reasons for pessimism about some of the leaders we see and some of the leaders we know, I think I hear what Albert Camus described as the flutter of wings. I think I see what Robert Kennedy called a million points of daring, and I think I see it in what Robert Geenleaf called the servant leader who sets out to serve and leadership is what follows. I hope, therefore, that in all of our study of how leaders are developed, how they behave and what should be the relationship with followers, we will not forget that in its essence ethical leadership is about service, "making the condition of others our own."