In the NY Times this morning, there is an Op-Ed piece discussing the decision by CBS News to ask US presidential candidates questions that go beyond policy questions to get more at what their core beliefs are - questions like "who's the most impressive person you've met?" and "what's the biggest mistake you've ever made?". While those questions seem pretty normal to anyone who's preparing for MBA interviews, they are a bit unique in the political arena where questions tend to focus on what policy positions a candidate may take. CBS News says that they are asking these questions in response to voter polls that say a president must have high integrity and character. What was a bit frightening to me was that the opinion piece took the exact opposite position, saying "integrity...is probably not a qualification for navigating the treacherous and ever-shifting waters of domestic and international diplomacy" and "The decorums of political contest demand the rhetoric of integrity and sincerity. The performance of political duties, especially at the highest level, requires something quite different."
It seems to me that the business world learned its lesson a few years ago with all the corporate scandals that the performance at all costs, personal integrity doesn't matter, style of leadership eventually leads to trouble. I think that certainly if you ask any of the top MBA programs whether integrity is important to leadership they would answer absolutely yes. So that begs the question - is integrity important to business leaders but not political leaders? I do not dispute the Op-Ed's assertion that the world of international affairs and diplomacy is not black and white, and often does not offer clear choices between good and bad options. The world is complex and nuanced. However, I would propose that this is precisely why a political leader needs to have strong personal integrity, in order to find their way through the ambiguity. I don't think that having integrity means being stubborn and insisting on simple right-or-wrong positions, but I think it does make it easier to navigate the grey areas. I also think there are things that are just plain wrong and should not be done, regardless of politics. A leader without integrity leads down a slippery slope to a place where anything goes, the end justify the means. In the end, leadership is leadership whether leading a multinational organization or a country. And in the end, I think recent history has shown that we'd be better off if our political leaders from all parties put integrity and character above politics.