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Leadership and Morality

The leader, Alpha, and Omega? A moral question…

Is the leader almighty? Is his word law? From early on, the King has been a symbol of leadership. In the old Egypt, the king embodied godly power and the order of the world. The Egyptians did not place their king as an absolute monarch at the top of a pyramid of power though. Above him, there was a pyramid structure in the shape of the world of the gods with sun-god Ra heading it. From the heart of the king, Ra spoke through his mouth. In this way, the king spoke and acted based on cosmic laws of which the goddess Maat was the personification. Maat is a symbol for creating harmony between heaven and earth, between godly creation and earthly politics. Because of this, the will of the king was bound to “Truth, Order, and Justice.” It was unthinkable that a ruler would choose for evil. The good was his precept.

The king fulfilled his role by bringing offers and performing rituals and by bringing justice to the people. By that, he let Maat come into existence and destroyed “Isfet,” the presence of injustice and violence. In this way the king played an important role in the health of the community. The king wasn’t free to do what he wanted; he had to obey Ra because he was his representative. The king was bound by the third principle of the cosmic order. Authority was connected with the trinity of the king, Ra, and Maat.

“The good was his precept.” The ancient Greeks had four main virtues for their moral orientation, Justice, Braveness, Modesty, and Cautiousness. They saw these virtues as a way to unfold the richness of the soul, a way to bring humanity to his true self and enable a fruitful life. Leadership can be coined with these values and virtues. Departing from values and virtues prevents a specter of Plato from happening. In The Republic, he writes that in a society that is all about richness, the people can never muster sufficient moderation (Maat). Because of indifference and because everybody is allowed to do whatever they wish, people that were born for a very different life are brought to beggary. And: “If our financial position in society becomes the measure for our value as a human being, our moral values are being sidelined and the moral level of the population will decrease.” Moral values are prerequisites for higher development. Without these prerequisites, we are at risk of falling into a material spiral of exploitation and violence.

An external reference is needed to stay close to “Maat”, to steer a course for what’s right: ethical leadership. The best thing a leader can do is act in service of a social context, not as a measure of that social context. The power of the leader is not just in itself. This also means that the opinion of the leader is not the measure of what is “just”.

After the Watergate scandal, President Nixon resigned. In an interview with David Frost, Nixon disclosed: I’m saying that if the president does it, that means it is not illegal. With that, he says that he was above the law. The scandal and Nixon’s premise hurt the moral authority of the presidency very much.

Ma’at, normen en waarden in het oude Egypte; Frans Schobbe
Spiritualiteit voor managers, Aselm Grun
De Staat, Plato vertaling van Gerard Koolschijn

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