ETHICS AND LEADERSHIP
Professor Manuel M. Davenport, in a tribute to Col Mal Wakin entitled "Ethics and Leadership," examines Col Wakin's views and qualities of leadership, comparing them with those of Albert Schweitzer, whom Professor Davenport met in 1960. He claims that Wakin’s and Schweitzer's views of leadership are quite similar. Wakin’s concepts of competence and integrity parallel Schweitzer's technical expertise and moral authority. Both provide examples of transformational leadership. Schweitzer's Reverence for Life shares aspects of Wakin’s discussions of Natural Law theory, and both men exemplify strong, authoritarian leadership. Professor Davenport holds that by emulating Wakin and Schweitzer, we will become better leaders as well as better persons.
In order to learn about "leadership," the most useful approach is to examine the examples of those who have inspired others to follow them. "Leadership," after all, is intentional term, and intentional terms always imply a relation to something else. "Touching," for example, is an intentional term because you cannot touch unless there is something to touch, and "leadership' is an intentional term because you cannot be a leader unless someone follows.
In my lifetime I have been fortunate to have met and known two persons who not only acquired a large and devoted following, but who were also persons I have followed with complete confidence--and I am not a person who easily or quickly follows anyone.
One of the outstanding leaders I met was Albert Schweitzer, the world famous medical missionary, philosopher, theologian and musician. I knew before I met him in 1960 that many people viewed him to be a saint and and hundreds of people during his fifty years in Africa had left everything to work with him at his hospital in the equatorial rain forest. One of the women who had worked for many years in the nursery in his hospital was a lovely American socialite, who told me that Schweitzer spoke to her only once every two or three months, but that was more than enough reward and incentive to keep her from returning to her comfortable, upper-class, Manhattan existence.
The second person who exemplifies leadership for me I also met in 1960, when he was an Air Force captain teaching philosophy at the Air Force Academy. We were both attending a meeting of the Mountain Plains Philosophical Association at which the members decided to pass a resolution condemning American military intervention in Vietnam. Captain Mal Wakin informed the group that if such a resolution were passed, members of the Air Force Academy's Philosophy Department would be obligated to withdraw from the Association. I suggested that we might allow military members of the Association to take public exception to the proposed resolution, but this suggestion was met with righteous indignation, the resolution passed, and Captain Wakin and his military colleagues withdrew.
Over the years, Mal Wakin remained active in the Air Force, served a tour of duty in Vietnam, became a Colonel and Permanent Professor, as well as Associate Dean, at the Air Force Academy. He is an internationally recognized authority on military ethics and, of course, the founding father of JSCOPE. Two different persons have told me--one a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the other a two-star Air Force general--that Gen. Wakin, to use his present rank, is widely viewed as "the conscience of the armed forces."
Most recognized leaders are well aware of the nature and theory of leadership. Thus, it should be no surprise that Schweitzer and Wakin, as well as Patton, MacArthur, Churchill, and others, have thought and written extensively about leadership. And it does not surprise me that what Schweitzer and Wakin each say about leadership is quite similar.
According to Schweitzer, leadership has two components: 1) technical expertise and 2) moral authority. Technical expertise is the ability and knowledge necessary to do what must be done to accomplish the desired objective. Moral authority is knowledge of and concern for what is best for those who follow you. Thus, a leader, one who inspires others to follow, is one who knows what is best for his followers, one who wants what is best for them, and one who knows how to achieve it.1 Schweitzer was confident that those he worked with, both Africans and Europeans, knew he was concerned for them and had the skills necessary to to achieve what was best for them.
Wakin, although he uses different terms, finds that leadership consists of similar components. The first is integrity, which is a long-range and persistent commitment to moral principles. A person of integrity does not change moral principles when they become unpopular or inconvenient. A person of integrity, as David attested in the Psalms, is "like a tree planted by the waters, which shall not be moved."2
The second component is competence, which like Schweitzer's "technical expertise," is the skill and knowledge necessary to realize one's chosen objectives. Thus, in agreement with Schweitzer, Wakin is saying that a leader must be both technically proficient and morally committed. Wakin, in fact, ties both components together by insisting that a leader has a moral obligation to be competent.3
Both Schweitzer and Wakin, it should be emphasized, insist that it is not enough in order to be a good leader to be technically proficient only. One who is technically proficient in the pursuit of bad goals or in the absence of a moral concern for subordinates will lead his followers to destruction even more quickly than an incompetent saint. On the other hand, it is not sufficient to possess moral integrity only. One can have the best of intentions and lead others to disaster because of a lack of necessary knowledge and skills. As Billy Sunday liked to say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Now at this point it may occur to you that a true leader might well suffer from moral and intellectual arrogance because he must be confident that he knows what is best for others and confident that he knows how to obtain it and I must confess that both Schweitzer and Wakin were persons quite confident about both their moral and technical expertise. I have been aware, in the presence of each, of a self-confidence that radiated out from them and attracted people to follow them. But neither of them really suffered from the kind of proud, self-righteous arrogance that we often see in leaders who are lacking in both morality or skill.
Why not? It is, I think, important to ask this question because in answering it we will discover a critical difference between the kind of leadership advocated by Schweitzer and Wakin and the kind of arrogant, egotistical leadership exhibited by those who focus only upon the objective and ignore the human subordinates they manipulate.
The egotistical leader, who may quite correctly believe that his objective is moral, does become arrogant when willing to ignore the values of those who follow and sacrifice them, if necessary, in order to achieve the goal. Such a leader--called by Wakin a transactional leader--generally establishes a contractual relationship with his followers: you do what I tell you and I will see that the goal is reached. Such a leader generally measures the efforts of his followers in quantitative terms--how many dollars made, how many bodies killed, how many students per class--and he generally demands an impossible perfection.
Wakin advocates and follows a different leadership style--that of the transformational leader who seeks by means of moral example to persuade followers to adopt a goal that is in the best interest of the community.4 Again, Schweitzer agrees. "Example," he was fond of saying, "is not the main thing. It is the only thing."
The transformational leader, therefore, is neither morally nor intellectually arrogant because his success does not depend upon merely reaching a certain objective but depends rather upon convincing his followers that the goal is worthwhile and upon winning their willing cooperation in its pursuit. It is the goal of the transformational leader to create a morally sensitive and technically proficient community which will be able to continue to realize its objectives in the future--even when the present leader is no longer present.
Albert Schweitzer and his daughter and only child, Rhena, disagreed often concerning the operation of the hospital at Lambarene. She wanted it to be much more modern than it was and he adopted innovations with careful reluctance. As he was dying, however, he designated Rhena to be the new director of the hospital. A few months later Rhena and I were attending a conference in Schweitzer's honor in Aspen and she asked me, "Why do you think Daddy picked me to run the hospital?" I gave her what I thought was a truthful and simple answer. Her father knew that she was a person of deep conviction and integrity who would be the kind of leader and example the hospital needed. The fact that she would use different methods was not as important to him as the fact that she was devoted to serving the hospital and its patients.
I have been fortunate to serve two tours as a visiting professor under Mal Wakin's leadership at the U.S.A.F.A. and, thus, I have witnessed his successful and unusual efforts to lead by example. Truly democratic departments are rare even in the civilian world, but Gen. Wakin has lead and operated a democratic department in a military academy for 35 years. In departmental discussions of course development and teaching, everyone contributes, regardless of rank, and if a consensus does not emerge, the majority rules. He wants his department to be a community in which persons respect and help each other, and he conveys this desire by helping and respecting his department members. As one of his department members told me, "He really believes that if he is a well-prepared, enthusiastic teacher, everyone else will be one, too. He really believes that if he works 12 to 15 hours a day, the other department heads will do the same. And, you know what, everyone works harder than they thought they could."
As transformational leaders, both Schweitzer and Wakin have provided those who followed them with new meanings and directions by calling forth their best intentions and efforts. They have not demanded personal sacrifices for the sake of a cause but have offered personal fulfillment in a joint and common pursuit of greater personal value. Thereby they ask of us nothing less than to become new leaders possessing our own moral authority.
Is this demand they make of us reasonable or even fair? I think that many of us at this point are tempted to disclaim responsibility for leadership by contending that great leaders are not made but born. The Schweitzers and Wakins of this world, it is too easy to say, are natural leaders, the happy accidents of good genes and fortunate circumstance, and, of course, it follows that the rest of us, products of more average form and substance cannot be expected to do anything more than make an occasional and token moral exertion in their honor. In truth, however, neither Schweitzer nor Wakin were leaders by accident. Both Schweitzer and Wakin, and in this respect they differ from leaders driven by a desire for fame or a sense of destiny, have based their lives of leadership on slowly and carefully developed ethical theories.
Schweitzer's ethical theory, well known as "Reverence for Life,"5 stipulated that it is good to promote the will-to-live of all creatures and it is evil to harm and obstruct their wills-to-live. What he attempted to do in Africa was to provide by his life and service an example that would inspire others to practice Reverence for Life and to do so effectively.
Reverence for Life, according to Schweitzer, requires us to be as ethical as possible and, if the circumstances make it impossible for us to be completely ethical, it requires us to recognize and atone for our failures. As he put it:
He who under the influence of supra-personal responsibility simply sacrifices men and human happiness when it seems right . . . has not reached the highest level . . . We have spiritual influence only when others notice that we do not decide coldly in accordance with principles . . . but in each case fight for our sense of humanity.6
Wakin bases his theory of transformational leadership on Natural Law Theory which stresses working for the common good of the community, promoting basic human values, and striving to be competent.7 One of the major human values, according to Natural Law Theory, is the acquisition of knowledge by the use of reason, and Wakin contends that because we have a moral obligation to develope our minds we have also, as professionals, a moral obligation to be competent and respect the truth.
Because he believes we are obligated to work for the common good Wakin has no respect for ethical egoism. Although Utilitarianism is concerned with the good of the community, Wakin dismisses it because it fails to recognize that the good of the community must be based on natural values which cannot be sacrificed for the common good. Kant is worthy of consideration because he does recognize that certain basic values cannot be compromised, but he fails to see, as Aristotle did, that we are morally obligated to have not only a good will but also a high level of technical expertise.
Before concluding, I must address a comment that has been directed at both Schweitzer and Wakin. Both have been called "paternalistic" leaders, and given our current cultural climate, the implication is negative. Schweitzer confronted this charge by responding that "paternalism" was superior to what has replaced it. He admitted that he did think of himself as both morally and intellectually superior to those who were his subordinates and patients; otherwise, why should he lead or why should they follow? Wakin may be more modest than Schweitzer and certainly he is more tactful, but I have seen him in action and he does not hesitate to exercise either his military, moral, or intellectual authority when the situation requires. Let us say, then, in a spirit of charity, that both have been "authoritarian" leaders, and let me suggest that this is why they are followed. We know as we follow them that we become more like them--we become not only better persons but we become leaders ourselves.
1. Albert Schweitzer, On the Edge of the Primeval Forest (New York: Macmillan, 1956), pp. 82-83, 88-89.
2. Malham M. Wakin, "The Ethics of Leadership I," War, Morality, and the Military Professsion, (Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1986), pp. 196-197.
3. Wakin, "The Ethics of Leadership II," op. cit., pp. 211-212.
4. Ibid., pp. 210-211.
5. Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought (New York: Mentor Books, 1957) pp. 123-127; The Philosophy of Civilization (New York: Macmillan, 1960),pp. 286-315.
6. Schweitzer, The Philosophy of Civilization, p. 326.
7. Wakin, "The Ethics of Leadership II," pp. 204-205, 214-215.