Reply To: To be an effective leader, a public official must maintain the highest ethical and moral standards
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University: Shenzhen University
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 fails to distinguish private morality from public ethics, and thus oversimplifies the complexity of the relationship between morality and effectiveness. In my view, private moral defects do not preclude an official from effective leadership, but defying public social ethics might gravely influence the official’s political career.
Before proceeding further, the definition of “effectiveness” should be clarified. The primary objectives of an official’s duty are to guarantee people’s safety, render convenient service to the public, and contribute to local development. In this respect, effectiveness should be interpreted as the efficient accomplishment of his/her duties. A highly esteemed and admired leader can readily rally his/her people, attracting support and compliance. Accordingly, people are more willing to accept the political views of an admired leader than a morally controversial one, making it easier for the morally noble official to achieve his/her political objectives.
Although laudable private morality will facilitate effective administration, political achievements do not necessarily depend on one’s private moral virtues. In other words, it is understandable for an officer to have minor private moral defects. For example, an official, who contributes to the local economy and dramatically mitigates the unemployment problem, still deserves a reputation as effective leadership even though he/she has an affair. In contrast, absolute adherence to moral ethics may defeat an officer’s political purposes. For example, had the mayor of a city threatened by terrorism disclosed all information about the act of arresting terrorists, the efforts to erase terrorism would certainly fail.
Nevertheless, if an official breaks the public rules aligned with public benefits upon which a democratic society depends to thrive, he/she cannot be considered effective. 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 due to his disregard for public ethics.
All in all, although I grant that a morally respected and loved official makes his/her administration readily, private moral defects do not deny his/her effectiveness. On the contrary, the consequence of public moral decay could be serious enough to impact one’s effectiveness as an officer.