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I have been following the furore around Dominic Cummings in the UK over the last several days with both interest and not a little anger. If you are not interested in UK politics, this is the senior and extremely influential advisor to the UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. The story concerns Cummings taking a key part in setting and communicating ‘Lockdown’ rules during the pandemic, then blatantly breaking them twice himself and refusing to resign or even accept that he had done anything wrong. Other advisors have been guilty of the same thing but have taken the honourable route: apologised and resigned.
This has been compounded by Boris Johnson refusing to condemn or sack Cummings. The rage and outpouring of anger from the British public who have been locked in at home, unable to see loved ones, unable to be with family members as they died, has been like a tidal wave.
I understand from multiple press reports (although not from his own lips) that Boris Johnson likes to think of himself as the heir to Winston Churchill, the great war leader, and this made me think of those dark days and the leadership displayed by the generals then, including the supreme allied commander, and later President, Dwight Eisenhower.
Eisenhower said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” Unlike Cummings, he also didn’t put himself on a pedestal, didn’t say there were rules for the soldiers and different rules for him and didn’t follow Cummings’s maxim of ‘Do what I say , not what I do”.
Integrity is fundamental to leadership. This was demonstrated clearly in a survey conducted by the recruitment firm, Robert Half to assess attitudes to key leadership traits. This survey found that integrity was valued as both the most essential leadership trait and the top quality in an executive.
Without integrity, there is no leadership and what this episode shows in spades is that both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Cummings are simply unfit for their jobs.
Christopher Bauer, PhD, a fraud specialist and author of “Better Ethics NOW” stresses that leaders need to empathise and highlight their commitment to integrity at every turn. They need to lead by example. He comments, ““If they are modelling behaviour that lacks integrity, what message is that sending about what is acceptable behaviour?” In this pandemic, breaking rules will kill people. There can be no more serious an issue.
It is a lesson writ clear. A man or woman without integrity cannot be an effective leader. Integrity, honour. Old-fashioned ideas perhaps but as critical today as they ever were to leadership.
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