Insights from Michael Bloomfield, Founder and Executive Director of the Harmony Foundation http://www.harmonyfdn.ca/
If you were the leader of the world, would you allow poverty, war, hunger, pollution and environmental deterioration? The answer is obvious to any decent person: No! Then why in the world does a newborn today inherit a place where humanitarian, political and environmental disasters occur daily and worsen with time?
Great leaders offer a vision for society and the world that will advance and enhance the quality of life today and in the future. They also possess the insight, persuasiveness and determination to bring people together to solve problems and make good opportunities become reality. Unfortunately, the leadership that we see today, in Canada and elsewhere, looks little like the ideal. The consequences are painfully evident. In a world of plenty, we have millions of poor children and families facing starvation and health epidemics, or displaced by conflict and environmental disasters.
Some of these problems are new and some are old, but all of them persist because today’s leaders seem to no longer aspire to solving complex problems, they simply manage them or pass them on. Others hide behind unconquerable mountains of bureaucracy. Sitting comfortably behind their desks, far removed from the daily problems the average citizen faces as a result of bad public policy, they prefer managing problems to solving the underlying issues.
The corruption of leadership
Our society and its elite have become so heavily focused on economic growth and business development that other issues and those addressing them struggle to get on the agenda. We have a disproportionately high percentage of leaders from business and law compounding the problem of single-mindedness and raising the risk of individual attraction to opportunities for personal gain, which results in corruption. Of course we need to provide reasonable compensation for public service but is it appropriate that elected officials by and large decide their own salaries and benefits without public oversight? Is that why salaries for Members of Parliament have risen substantially over the past 10 years? Was it our choice that our political leaders and their senior bureaucrats have become the new aristocracy, with salaries and gold-plated pensions that dramatically exceed not only what the average taxpayer receives, but rates in the private sector?
Canada prides itself of its democracy, which rests on a number of honourable principles: accessibility, accountability and transparency. A democracy is only truly democratic if all citizens have the opportunity to participate. The principle of accountability holds that the leaders, whether elected or appointed, are responsible to the citizenry for their decisions and actions. Transparency requires that the decisions and actions of those in government are open to public scrutiny. Increasingly our leaders fail to honour these principles in a desperate attempt of self-perseverance.
Our local, provincial and federal politicians have for too long embraced an absurd and somewhat desperate belief in infallibility. The irony is that democracy rests on such an ability to acknowledge and respect different perspectives, argue for ones standpoint, but face criticism and engage in constructive debate about the possible flaws in one’s reasoning. Today however, our leaders and the governing bodies they represent are so afraid of liability that they would rather never admit to a mistake than apologize for their human fallibility and constructively engage civil society in correcting such mistakes.
Surely we get the leaders we deserve. They are raised and grow in our communities; they go to our schools and belong to our families where leadership development begins. Our leaders have failed us, sometimes miserably, in solving our problems and providing the promised better lives for more and more people. But perhaps, we have failed ourselves too in choosing our leaders and passively submitting to their short-sighted, self-centered decision-making.
I know there is much fatigue after so many disappointments from so many insincere leaders seemingly more interested in power and wealth than the public good. Poor leadership and bad public policy bears some responsibility for this apathy. And perhaps we are living too comfortably in our privileged part of the world to care. Duped by the media and public spending on self-affirming celebratory events rather than social and environmental problems, many have abdicated their responsibilities to govern our leaders. But let’s not get complacent. While public participation depends somewhat on great leadership and a real commitment on behalf of our leaders to be accessible and accountable and open to criticism, public participation also requires a genuine and strong will on behalf of the public to get involved. It’s our job to help them do a better job and let them know when they do not.
Recommended further readings and links