Wednesday 22 May 2013

Integrity in Leadership

This address was given on 22 May 2013, in response to the Free Market Foundation's Luminary Award “…for lifelong dedication to all the peoples of South Africa and for ceaselessly demonstrating the highest level of integrity”

May I express my thanks to the Free Market Foundation for this award, and say how honoured I am. (And may I also express my gratitude for your patience in waiting for me after I missed my earlier flight today.)

I am particularly humbled to be honoured in this way by the Free Market Foundation, as we all know that those of us within the religious sector are not generally the strongest champions the free market! But I take it as a sign of your recognition that the market is just one player among many; and that all of us must have our place, and adequate space, to flourish freely – each playing our complementary roles – if we are to contribute to a nation of flourishing individuals within flourishing communities.

For, to put my entire talk into a nutshell, this is the essence of what I believe leadership, and integrity of leadership, is all about. It is about our commitment to promoting contexts and processes for human living that are in service of the people of this and all nations, and of our planet. And it is about paying particular attention to the well-being of those who are in greatest need, and least able to help themselves.

Furthermore, this is the task of all of us, not merely those who are most obviously in the business of caring for society’s needy. And this is not just a moral question – though it is this. But in addition, when everyone has a chance to live decently, this creates a context where business too does better. Therefore, taking the moral course is actually in the best, long term, interests of the private sector.

Let me now unpack these assertions in greater detail.

My starting point is, not surprisingly, to consider what we mean by integrity. It is often said that ‘integrity is doing the right thing, even if nobody is watching.’ True indeed. The dictionary provides a richer interpretation of what ‘doing this right thing’ is. ‘Integrity’ comes from a Latin word which literally means ‘untouched’, and so conveys wholeness, completeness, soundness, coherence.

From the perspective of South African citizens, therefore, this means that integrity, doing the right thing – whether in our personal or professional lives – is whatever contributes to making South Africa a ‘whole’ country, a country of wholeness. After the woundedness of the past, our desire should be to work for greater healing and wholeness, in the lives of individuals, in the lives of communities, in the life of the nation as a whole.

How do we recognise such wholeness, so we may pursue it? One of the first places I go looking for answers is the Constitution, and particularly to its Preamble. I hope you know what it says. I’m very supportive of the proposal that every learner should recite it regularly at school, so they know it off by heart. We need the values it upholds, and the goals it sets before us, to become an automatic part of every citizen’s self-understanding of what it means to be a good South African. It is something I would like us all to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ so that it becomes an integral part (there’s that ‘integrity’ concept again, in a different form!) – an integral part of the way we look at the world, and the way we automatically act.

As the English philosopher, Francis Bacon, said, ‘It's not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; not what we read but what we remember that makes us learned; and not what we profess but what we practice that gives us integrity.’

The Constitution’s Preamble begins by recognising the injustices of the past, and that many suffered and struggled for justice, freedom, and to build a new nation. It then affirms that we ‘believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.’ A whole country has a place for everyone, with all our distinctive differences – so we may be enriched by all the latent potential among us.

It then describes the nation which we aspire to build, through our constitutional democracy. Together we commit ourselves (and I quote):
• to ¬heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
• to lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
• to improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person;
• and to build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.’
And it ends, ‘May God protect our people.’

So then, what makes for wholeness? What should we pursue if we want to be leaders of integrity?

Our Constitution gives us the following touchstones for our policy-making, for our business plans, for our programme setting:
• what helps heal past divisions?
• what strengthens democratic values and democratic practices?
• what promotes social justice and fundamental human rights?
• what improves the quality of life, not of some citizens, not of the privileged few, but of ALL citizens?
• what frees the potential – what provides tangible, realisable, opportunities – to each and every person; not merely those who already have a good start in life?
• what helps us grow in a sense of unity, of belonging to one another, while respecting and valuing our differences, whether they be linguistic, cultural, and racial, or educational and economic?

All of these contribute to the sort of society I described earlier – of flourishing individuals in flourishing communities. It is about healthy living. I don’t just mean physically health but also emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social, cultural, health and wholeness – which we should each be able to live out in our own ways, provided that we also allow equal space and opportunity for others.

Now perhaps you were surprised when I mentioned the Constitution before I turned to the Bible! But I hope that you are now realising why the faith communities throw our weight so much behind the realisation of all that the Constitution promises. For we too want to promote these healthy, wholesome, ways of living. Jesus himself said ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10).

The mark of integrity in leadership is the preparedness to commit one’s life, in whatever field one finds oneself, to pursuing this abundant life for all.

So let me now look at the other side of the coin – what undermines abundant, flourishing, wholesome life, within South Africa? It is easy to think of candidates for a long, long list! There’s the whole Gupta saga and the attitudes that let it happen. There’s the Marikana tragedy and too many stories of police brutality – what makes them possible? And what about Anene Booysen and the thousands and thousands of cases of gender violence that never make the newspapers? What about the scandal of undelivered text books, mud schools, and teachers who don’t know their subjects or won’t pull their weight? What about the apparent tender irregularities in Gauteng at City Power? We could go on and on.

But where are all these rooted?

We must start by naming our inherited lacking wholeness – not least so that we do not compound it now.

For example, given the way that the apartheid regime drove wedges between all South Africa’s communities, I am concerned by the increase in what some have called the ‘zulufication’ of political rhetoric. We don’t want to send ourselves down the path trodden by Hutus and Tutsis.

We also need honesty around the interplay of past legacies on the one hand and current weaknesses and failings on the other. I don’t want to get into the polarising row that engulfed Trevor Manuel recently, so let me say, very carefully, that these two biggest issues are inextricably linked. We must acknowledge that the past has left us with terrible legacies of poverty and inequality. And at the same time, government has not done all that it might, to overcome them.

There are practical reasons for this – we have inherited appalling skills shortages and capacity constraints. And sometimes politicians and civil servants at all levels of government from national to local have just felt overwhelmed by what they face and at a loss to know where to begin. In this they need our encouragement, far more than our condemnation.

But we also know that corruption is a massive problem. It comes hand in hand with a wider loss of moral compass. This creates an atmosphere in which all sort of dubious practices somehow become accepted. Leaders with integrity, across all sectors, must join forces, to face down this scourge at every level, including through the protecting of whistle-blowers within our own organisations.

Integrity means creating contexts, promoting cultures, where those who do good, who uphold moral high standards, are rewarded – even if it sets them against more narrowly self-serving practices that have become normative. There is a huge challenge to us around questions of what is merely getting away with the extremes of what the law will allow.

We see this in the current rows about tax being paid by multinationals like Amazon and Apple and Google in the US and various European countries. Now, in one sense, they are not only within their rights, but entirely sensible, to arrange their affairs within the law so that they pay the absolute minimum taxes that they need to. But having the right to do something does not make it the right thing to do. We need to ask more fundamental questions about whether the sort of schemes that companies and government treasuries have allowed to develop, are truly moral in the sense of serving not merely shareholders, but the societies in which they do business.

There is a quote going the rounds on Facebook at the moment that highlights the heart of the problem. It says, ‘People were created to be loved, and things were created to be used: and the reason why the world is in such chaos today is that things are being loved and people are being used.’ It’s a bit simplistic, but we have to ask ourselves whether it does reflect a pernicious and growing attitude.

And it challenges us also to ask ourselves whether we are behaving with integrity when, as global and national economic actors, the financial, business and government sectors develop ways of behaving that exacerbate the gulfs between rich and poor. All around the world, the Gini coefficient (measuring the disparity between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’) has been rising – and South Africa is among the worst.

Integrity in leadership cannot just stand idly by and allow this to continue. Martin Luther King Junior put it this way, ‘Every man [and also, of course, every woman] must decide whether he [or she] will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.’ The challenge is how you serve not only owners’, and share-holders’ interests, over the short term – but how you do so in ways that also serves the interests of nation, and all (and I mean ALL) its citizens, in the mid- and long- term.

Looking at that horizon, I must mention the National Development Plan, with its visions for where we could be by the year in 2030. I believe that this, and other planning exercises, like the Dinokeng scenario, are entirely right when they say that we can only become the healthy, whole, society of which our Constitution speaks, if we go forward together.

We need to ‘fly as flamingos’. If we do not act together, we are bound to fail.

Government, business, civil society – none of us has the capacity to make the necessary differences on our own. We must each pull our weight, and contribute what we can, in constructive cooperation.

Now, constructive cooperation does not mean that we must give up criticising, and criticising sharply, when we believe government, or the private sector, or civil society, has got it wrong. Government, in particular, needs to beware of promoting a culture where it is unacceptable to speak out – whether by means of the appalling Protection of Information legislation, or through the stick and carrot of only granting contracts to friends.

For all of us need the perspectives of others, if we are to be helped to become the best that we can be. I hope that by speaking here today as, I trust, a constructive critic, a critical friend, I am being a good example of this!

All of us need to hold one another to account. The private sector and civil society must hold government to account, but they too can ask the same high standards of us. We all need to be held accountable, above all else, to the standards and aspirations, of the Constitution. This helps us understand what it is for each of us to pursue integrity in our own sectors, and in our own leadership. Does what we do contribute to bringing our nation closer to the picture the Constitution paints, or is it directed towards some other goals – that may help some, but actually hinder others in ‘freeing the potential of each person’ as the Constitution puts it?

As Archbishop, but also as a professional psychologist, I want to stress the importance of us not losing sight of the wonderful vision of our Constitution. For we risk becoming so focussed on all the problems and negative stories around us, that we lose sight of what we should truly be aiming for. And this just drags us further down.

We should instead be deliberate and intentional in ensuring that a vision of a healthy, flourishing, engaged citizenry, becomes the magnet that draws us – towards which our business plans, our programme-setting, our short, medium and long-term goals and planning are directed. If the good is at the centre of our imagination, our very souls, then it will find expression in our attitudes, in our thinking, our speaking, our acting. This is what it means to live lives of integrity.

The Bible understood these psychological dynamics close on two thousand years ago. St Paul wrote, in the letter to the Christians at Philippi, in today’s Turkey, ‘Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things’ (Phil 4:8).

Let us be clear in analysing the difficulties that we face, and the obstacles that need to be overcome. But in doing so, let us never take our eyes off the prize that lies ahead of us. Let us never become downhearted, and doubt that we can direct our lives to all that is good, all that promotes wholeness, all that reflects integrity.

For all of us can be leaders of integrity – people who promote the wholeness and flourishing of those around, and across wider society and nation. It is becoming fashionable to talk about ‘thought leaders’, and certainly, I believe that we need to get right our thinking, and more than that, our deep-seated, often unspoken, attitudes. And right attitudes and right thinking will inevitably lead to right words and right actions. Mental, moral and spiritual, integrity breed trust, breed confidence, breed social cohesion – they breed the building blocks that are necessary to deliver wholeness in our nation.

This applies as much to our personal lives as to our professional lives. As Confucius said, ‘The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.’ We too can pursue integrity at every level.

Let me give an example from my own life. As you may know, having spent time in academia as well as the church, I’ve always had a deep concern for education. I now find myself caught up into all sorts of action that have really encouraged me in understanding that all of us can make a difference at all sorts of levels. I’m now acting individually, through the Church or other community action, and in supporting national initiatives. So, on an individual level, a group of us who grew up in Alexandra are helping rebuild Pholosho school, and funding bursaries. Others I know support schools where employees children go. It puts a human face on our problems, and helps open our eyes to the real needs of communities. In Gauteng, Anglicans have the growing Vuleka school initiative, with which I’m also involved. Our next project is building a boys’ boarding school.

And on a wider level, I’m adding my voice to the call for the Minister of Education to issue proper, decent, specific and measurable, minimum infrastructure norms and standards for all schools. As part of this campaign, I visited the Eastern Cape last month, with a delegation including academics, writers, and human rights activists. Though we encountered heroic efforts by many educators and learners, we were also shocked and appalled by much of what we saw. So we will not rest, but keep up the pressure on Provincial and National government. And the good news is that this really works. Within days of our visit, there was an official statement saying the President had directed the relevant department within the Presidency to look into the matter. Now we must ensure this is followed through, by keeping up our lobbying.

Chinua Achebe said that ‘One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.’ But we know this is a tough ask, and none of us will get it right all the time. Sometimes we may find our decisions have negative consequences that we had failed to foresee. Sometimes we will exercise poor judgement in other ways, perhaps taking risks that we always knew were unwise. We may also make poor choices out of weakness.

But we can still aspire to integrity, and we can still encourage integrity in one another. Indeed, in today’s world, we have a great need for people who can stand up and admit that they have made mistakes; and take responsibility for them, and say they will make reparation and commit themselves to do better in future. This is a model of which we need to see more – so that all of us, when we fall short of what we might be, can nonetheless take heart, and make a fresh start, and persevere. This too is demonstrating integrity in leadership.

So then, to conclude: let our commitment to integrity find expression in commitment to pursing the glorious vision of healthy, whole, flourishing individuals, in a healthy, wholesome, society. This is the true legacy of our forefathers – for all that we battle with our difficult social and economic inheritances. This is the promise of 1994. This is the treasure that is ours to earn, if we have the courage to reach for it together. This is what integrity in leadership is all about. Let us strive for it together.

I’ll end with words from the Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius. ‘Waste no more time arguing about what a good man – or woman – should be. Be one.’