Needed: Principled Leadership

Which is more important:  principle or expediency?  Think through that question while join me into this excursion with leaders.

Although I listen to a fair amount of political discussion, I seldom write of it.  But in the last few days, with the election cycle heating up in anticipation of fall mid-term elections, I am becoming increasingly dismayed by the opportunistic motivations that seep out from between the lines of public rhetoric.

Throughout this post I admit to speaking, at times, in broad generality, but I say “seep out” because most of the candidates, regardless of their political affiliations, seem to speak to issues without the skeleton of principle on which to hang them. But I am not so much concerned about the candidates themselves as I am about us…the individual people who cast our ballots to elect them…or not.

We the people, regardless of our party affiliation, are told that the most important thing in any election cycle is to win. The reasoning is obvious. If we don’t win, we’re not in power (or not in the seat). If we’re not in power, we can’t get legislation through that will promote the party agenda.

What we are asked to do is to suspend judgment about principle and simply vote in the way that will be pragmatic for the Party. The conundrum is that what is in the best interest of the Party is not necessarily in the best interest of the Country (or State or City)…regardless of which Party we’re talking about.

A very funny but applicable line came from the mouth of Russell Crowe in the movie Master and Commander. He and his first mate were seated at a galley table with a plate of dry, crusty bread between them. The camera zooms in to show three weevils squirming out of the bread onto the plate. Crowe asks the first mate, “If, without any other knowledge about the weevils you were asked to choose between a large one or a smaller one, which would you choose (the quote is probably not exact)?”

The first mate replies that he would choose the larger, healthier weevil. “No,” says Crowe, “everyone knows you always choose the lesser of two weevils.”

And that’s exactly what we’re told by politicians and pundits. And, I’ll admit I have followed that thought pattern in many elections. But I wonder if the time has come when we can’t afford to do that any longer. If principles that are self-evident are disregarded, there are, after all, other options.

1. Don’t vote. I don’t recommend this option, because it completely marginalizes your personal influence, however small you might think that is. It is your constitutional right…don’t squander it.

2. Write in another candidate. This does send a message. The more votes not cast for either of the two major parties the more notice it will gain and the greater the potential impact it has on future elections. I obviously don’t have the room here to develop that idea, so I move on to what is becoming my preferred option.

3. Vote for a third party. As the support for third parties grows…even spread out over multiple third parties, the growing impact will be felt on the two major parties, promoting the possibility of pulling them both back to the self-evident principles. This presumes, obviously, that the third party is standing for the principles we hold dear.

So what are these “self-evident principles” which I’m suggesting to use as a measuring stick by which to judge the worthiness of a candidate? C.S. Lewis gives a comparatively in-depth treatment of the issue in his book The Abolition of Man. In a nutshell, these principles have two identifying factors.

First, these are principles that have been recognized and taught for thousands of years, collectively, by the Eastern Religions (including all their major varieties), by Judaism and by Christianity. Secondly, such a principle is accepted by all men of good will as right and appropriate. Lewis makes the argument that even evil men act in such a way as to point back to the principle, much as, I would say, a shadow indicates the thing of substance.

The logical demand at this point might be, “Give me a concrete example of one of these self-evident principles.” The most obvious and far reaching of these I think, is what I’m familiar with as the “Golden Rule.” Each of the world religions mentioned above teach a version of this principle. Simply put, it simply advances the idea of treating others as we would want treated. Anyone of good will recognizes that this principle is inherently correct and should be universally applied.

I offer one example which I think will suffice to illustrate how this principle is disregarded in governments at all levels. While claiming “the good of the people” as a mantra, votes are cast to enact a law that applies to everyone except those who cast the votes.
Richard and Henry Blackaby, in their book Spiritual Leadership refer to these kind of leaders as “selfish leaders” as opposed to “servant leaders”, serving themselves rather than others.

John C. Maxwell would identify these people as grasping, at all costs, for the “position level” of leadership, even though it is the very lowest of the five he identifies in his The 5 Levels Of Leadership. And, I would hold that these people ignore at least seven or eight of Maxwell’s …21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership.

I do not have the room here to develop this any further, but I encourage you to think about the consequences for future generations of our willingness to simply accept the lesser of two “weevils”, as Crowe would say, instead of holding all those for whom we vote accountable to whatever principles we hold critical.

When acceptable, self-evident principles are shunned there are inevitable consequences. In any organization at any level. From family to multi-million dollar corporations. From small town government to the national bureaucracy. As I list these, you will recognize them. I do not need to expand on or explain them. They are self-evident. You only need look around you…watch and listen. The consequences include the undermining of the following critical things.


There is much more to think about, but this is too long already. Do you have some thoughts to offer? Do you agree? Disagree? Please comment. I would also appreciate it if you would “share”, “tweet”, “like” and all those other things that help to expand the range of influence. I ask you to consider subscribing to my blog if you haven’t already. Thank you for reading.