Ethical leadership


"And this
is what leadership is also about: being comfortable with oneself, being able to
develop a sense of interiority, of inner depth and complexity that leads to
self reflection and self respect.” Clemens Sedmak, Director of the Ethical
Leadership Programme at King's College
, London, has been thinking a lot
about the need for new elements in teaching the future elite of
decision-makers. Martin Kugler, of the Vienna-based Observatory on Intolerance
and Discrimination against Christians
, talked to Professor Sedmak a few
weeks before he launches a new Masters Programme at King´s College.


Martin Kugler: Professor Sedmak, there is a saying that leading is special form of
serving. But it seems that nobody cares about such thoughts in the
establishment of big business. Is the current economic crisis a crisis of

: It is basically a matter of bad manners, some recklessness, greed, some
stupidity and, yes, a lack of control and ethical leadership. If leadership is
about motivating people to invest in the maximization of short term advantages
it is neither prudential nor ethically sensitive.

What is the
main problem the Western world faces today with regard to leadership? Is it a
crisis of authority or lack of leaders among young people?

It is
always difficult to talk about “the main problem”. But there is something which
I would like to call “moral Alzheimer’s”, a tendency to forget about standards
of decency and trustworthiness, a certain way of losing points of reference for
“what should be done”. The American philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah mentions the
“code of honour” as the driving force of moral revolutions. This idea of
honour, of self respect and respect for others, seems to be the key challenge
in our day and time.

What are
the most important characteristics of a good leader?

A good
leader has an idea of goodness and respective goals and is willing to hold on
to these goals even in difficult times. With this sense of clarity a leader is
prepared to master new situations. A good leader is authentic, cares strongly
about certain ideas that deserve robust concern and is a person of prudence.
Prudence means long-term planning, attentiveness, an ability to learn from the
past. Hence, a good leader is a good listener as well.

You are
currently preparing a new master’s programme in Ethical Leadership in one of
the world’s leading universities. What does leadership have to do with
academia? Can you really teach such qualities?

It is part
of the beauty and the challenge of academic leadership programmes that we
cannot teach what is essential to leadership – namely the person of the leader.
We can communicate certain ideas, good practices, conceptual and motivational
frameworks and a sense of orientation. But we cannot teach what leadership is
about. This is a journey towards personal development and personal growth that
is entrusted to each individual person. We can, however, create an environment
and a learning community and offer experiential challenges that foster and
nourish this sense of personal growth. In this sense, leadership can be taught
in an indirect, non-linear way.

What is the
new element in ethical leadership in comparison to leadership as commonly

The point
is not innovation, but what is not offered and what is needed. We need
ethically sensitive leadership in the middle of climate change, financial
crises, global injustices. I am not hosting a programme because it is simply
“different”, but because it is necessary. I would not advise any company or
institution to hire people for leadership positions without a sense of moral
clarity. So in comparison with other leadership programmes we explicitly
reflect upon “ethical literacy”, the ability to reflect upon ethical challenges
and to make justifiable decisions.

The new
master’s programme is embedded in the Department of Theological Studies. What
is the relationship between the two? Does religion help people to lead?

traditions as well as philosophy have a lot to offer for ethical leadership
issues. They instil a sense of the development and the stability of a person.
They provide examples of leadership in critical times. But most importantly,
the help us understand the importance of virtues and personal traits, they help
us to see the importance of what we care about. They ask the big questions and
they invite a culture of reflection – they build a culture of interiority. And
this is what leadership is also about: being comfortable with oneself, being
able to develop a sense of interiority, of inner depth and complexity that leads
to self reflection and self respect.

Clemens Sedmak is FD Maurice Professor of Moral Theology and Social Theology.
Clemens Sedmak has been visiting professor at the Jomo Kenyatta University in
Nairobi, at the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, at the
University of Notre Dame (Indiana), at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico
City. Clemens Sedmak is married with three children.
For more
Programme in Ethical Leadership


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