Reply To: To be an effective leader, a public official must maintain the highest ethical and moral standards

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ithefreedom
University: Shenzhen University
Nationality: China
January 13, 2021 at 3:55 am

The author claims that maintaining high moral and ethical standards is the premise of being an effective leader. Although the claim does have some merits, the author oversimplifies the complexity of the relationship between morality and effectiveness. In my view, personal moral defects do not preclude an official from effective leadership, but defying public social ethics might gravely influence the official’s political career, let alone the effectiveness of the execution of duty.

Before proceeding further, the definition of “effectiveness” should be clarified. The primary objectives of an official duty are to guarantee the people’s safety, render convenient service to the public, and contribute to the local development. In this sense, effectiveness should be interpretated as the efficient achievement of these purposes. A highly esteemed and admired leader can readily rally his/her people, attracting support and compliance. People are more willing to accept an admired official’s political views, making it easier for the official to achieve his/her political objectives.

However, although laudable personal qualities will facilitate effective administration, political achievements do not necessarily depend on personal moral virtues as long as the leader does not violate public benefits. In other words, it is understandable for an officer to have minor moral defects. For example, an official having an affair still deserves the reputation as effective leadership if he/she contributes to the local economics and mitigates the unemployment problem dramatically. In contrast, sometimes absolute adherence to moral ethics may be inadvisable in order to achieve effective leadership. For example, imagine a city threatened by a terrorist. If the city mayor discloses all information about the act of arresting the terrorist, the efforts will fail.

Nevertheless, if the official breaks the public rules aligned with public benefits, he/she cannot be considered effective since the basic duty of an official is to maximize people’s interest. Consider a mayor colludes with immoral corporate owners and allows illegal production and distribution of drugs. Even if the city benefits from the tax revenue from the corporate, the official will eventually be dismissed as he/she breaks the law and risks the public interest. Take the Watergate Scandal of Nixon as an example. Nixon jeopardized his presidentship at last by disregarding public ethics.

All in all, although I grant that a respected and loved official makes his/her administration efficiently, personal moral defects do not deny his/her effectiveness. But public moral decay will impact one’s effectiveness as an officer.