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Thursday, January 2, 2014

On the Nature of Principled Leadership

What is principled leadership? Simply whatever a leader decides? Or even worse, believes? If so, does the content shift with the sands from one leader to the next? This would seem to invalidate any means of comparing one leader's rendition from another. That it to say, leaving the "filling in the blank" to any leader who wants to be principled opens the door to leadership by convenience under the cover, or subterfuge, of ethics as a means of self-restraint. Ironically, do-it-yourself principled leadership may actually be unethical. So it is vital that we ask ourselves, is a durable definition even possible?
Ethical codes of conduct easily get mired in miasma as they traverse from the finitude of personal ideology to the power that comes with  universality and even the absolute. As universally applicable as an absolute, principled leadership is seemingly a normative constraint even on leaders who do not value the particular principles. The greed, ambition, immaturity, and the associated selfishness that together run Wall Street may appear to hang in the balance.

Kant claims that principles that can be universalized without contradiction should be universalized. (Image Source: builddiscipline.com)

However, even old Kant would admit that universalizing an ethical principle, or maxim, to be binding on everyone is not a sure thing, for the moral law does not by its normative nature approach the force enjoyed by public legal justice. This distinction is all that an egregious ego needs to slip through the semi-permeable normative membrane of a puffed-up ethical principle claiming for itself the mantle of universalizability and even absolute value (as if the principle were the assigner of values in place of reason).