On Leadership and Role Models


King David

King David by jimforest, on Flickr

Every Thursday morning, CBC Manitoba’s Information Radio program has a nine-minute panel on the Controversial Question of the week. Sometimes I have the privilege of being part of that panel. This past week I was there to talk about whether leaders should be role models. I said no, and here’s why.

First of all, here is the clip of our conversation. Unfortunately they have it set up in Flash, but I hope you can hear it anyway.

If you can’t, the gist is that my two companions felt that we should demand that our leaders be role models, and I disagreed – I believe that the passion to be a leader comes in a package with other passions and appetites, and they are nobody’s business as long as they don’t harm the entity that the person is leading.

In other words, showing up drunk at a gala is bad for the city of Toronto. Messing around with of-age interns in private is stupid and tacky, but neither illegal nor anybody’s business except theirs (and their significant others, if any). I don’t care if a teacher indulges in various substances at the lake as long as none of that (or its aftermath) makes its way into the classroom. People are entitled to private lives, with the emphasis on private.

In this conversation, I mentioned Louis Riel and Bill Clinton, but I want to spend a few minutes talking about another great flawed leader. Nobody doubts that King David was a great warrior, musician, lawmaker and king. He was also an adulterer, a lecher and a murderer, who betrayed one of his own commanders to death in order to have his way with his wife.

G-d took exception to that last little bit of abuse of power, and many bad things that happened to David in his latter years are attributable to it. The innocent child of the adulterous affair died. But the facts remain that he is considered Israel’s greatest king, that Bathsheba’s next child became King Solomon, and that the Messiah is said to be descended from his house.

The same is true of other leaders in the Biblical tradition – the Torah does not hide the flaws and imperfections of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Cowardice, avarice, deceit and every other character flaw that we deal with today are very much present in their lives. Our leaders have always been flawed.

To bring it back to our day, this is why we need auditors, checks and balances and an active, independent media. Our leaders will always be flawed, and it is our duty, in a democracy, to keep an eye on them and make sure they do their best to serve the people who elected them. What they do with their private lives is their business – as long as it doesn’t affect their leadership performance.

What do you think?

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