David Hegg | Wanted: Ethical Leaders

David Hegg

By David Hegg

The fact is, everything stands or falls on leadership. Leaders understand the importance of bringing people together to accomplish more than any could do alone. The best leaders are able to recognize future challenges and opportunities, assess and use their team’s strengths while protecting their weaknesses, and mobilize efforts in the right way when crises arise. But more than anything else, good leaders have a laser-like focus on the mission they have been charged to accomplish. 

We’ve all seen organizations that flounder. These range from multinational corporations that lose market share and go out of business, to families whose legacy is one of fractured lives and relationships. And while there are many reasons groups fail, perhaps Chaplain Peter Marshall summed it up best when he said, “If we don’t stand for something we shall fall for anything.” 

Successful companies, teams and families all understand that their success depends on having an understood mission at their core. Why do they exist? The answer to this fundamental question defines that central purpose or mission they believe must be accomplished. And it is this mission that their leaders exist to accomplish.  

But mission is not only about the desired end result; it also has bearing on the values that must be in place to accomplish it. And that is where ethics come in. For example, if an Olympic marathoner has as her mission to win the race, she will only accomplish that mission if she competes within the rules. If she crosses the finish line first but has broken one or more rules, her victory will ultimately be overturned and she will suffer great embarrassment. Just ask Lance Armstrong, or better yet, George Santos. 

But, sadly, ethics and leadership are increasingly being separated in our day as a result of three distinct societal values that are becoming commonplace. The first is old-fashioned selfishness. More and more leaders are looking out for themselves at the expense of the group they lead. This is highly recognizable in the political and corporate worlds, but perhaps the most devastating area where this is happening is in the family. Selfish parents play into family dysfunction because they won’t put in the time and energy necessary to love and train their children to be honest, hard-working, persevering, honoring, respectful and skilled in the basics of life. They have changed the mission from producing a family that is honorable and contributes positively to society, to selfishly fulfilling their own desires.  

Secondly, a “win-at-all-costs” mentality has gradually replaced honesty in many arenas. Not every liar gets caught, it seems, and the grip of greed is powerful in overriding the voice of conscience. Never in our history has character been more needed, or more in short supply in many respects. Too often the mission has become winning rather than doing what is honorable and helpful to those around us.  

Lastly, values-based leadership demands humility. Pride is often the acid that eats away its own container, especially in the life of a leader. Leaders who refuse to admit their mistakes, or become recalcitrant in the face of better ideas, soon are recognized as having replaced the organization’s mission with their own desire for recognition. Nothing is more paralyzing to a company, or a church, or a family. 

Jesus was a leader, and the expanding presence of those who follow his Word today continues to argue that he was the best leader ever. He makes those who follow him better, eternally so. He exhibits a humility combined with resolute courage that remains the best model of this necessary combination history has ever known. But most of all, Jesus never wavered from his mission, to bring rescue and reformation to souls trapped in the brokenness of their sins.  

A famous Christ-follower – D. L. Moody – once remarked, “There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Our country, our companies and our families desperately need a renewed sense of leadership like that. We need leaders whose ethics are above reproach, whose insights are sharpened by hard work, and whose followers can trust them fully, and follow them closely.  

Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays. 

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