By Kay-Dee Mashile
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
These famous words of Lord Acton, which are also found in the book Animal Farm by George Orwell, have been true since they were first penned on April 5th,1887. What he writes immediately after this famous statement is:
“Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”
Seeing the examples of leaders who have absolutely been corrupted (and protected) by the magnitude of power they hold to community leaders who took advantage of what little power they had to distribute food parcels during a global pandemic, makes one wonder whether we will ever see a day when corruption is a thing of the past.
In this letter, Lord Acton references the corruption of leaders in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Which means that corruption has been a pertinent issue in leadership since, I dare say, the beginning of time.
If this is the case, and we are perhaps socialised to “eat where we’re tied” as an African proverb says, how then do we guard ourselves from being corrupted by power? The ten tips below are suggestions from myself and other Activators on how we, the leaders of today and tomorrow, can guard against being corrupted by power and in so doing end the cycle of corruption.
- Be accountable from the very beginning
One doesn’t begin by committing a crime of corruption, they are first corrupted by having total control and the lack of an accountability body. As an Activator, or youth leader, practice accountability from the platform you currently have. Allow other people to hold you accountable for your actions and take responsibility for them.
- Lead from the middle, as an equal with your constituency
Do not see yourself as the tip of a pyramid with the people you’re leading above or beneath you. Rather tilt the triangle so that the tip is on the side, equal to the base. That way, you’re able to lead your team towards the directions of the vision without dictating to them what that vision is. It is important that we have leaders, but their role is to manage, not to boss others around. Be that kind of leader, one who points the group in the right direction.
- Be transparent
With equity and accountability comes transparency. All your reports should be available for all the members of the group you’re leading to see. Should there be secrets, there is then room for power to corrupt. Do not create an opportunity for that to happen.
- Do not be too proud to admit your mistakes
This is straightforward, a lot of corruption happens when covering up mistakes or other fraudulent behaviour. As a non-corrupt leader, you need to be willing to admit that you’re wrong and take responsibility for your mistakes. This could sometimes cost you the position you hold within the said platform. However, if your heart is in the right place, you will not mind servicing without the position.
- Seek wise counsel
You cannot remain sane in a position of authority without wise counsel. There will be more voices that lead you to destruction than those we seek the good of the cause you’re championing for. You, therefore, need to seek out people who can assist you when you need a second opinion or wisdom when making decisions.
- Surround yourself with just people
With wise counsel comes wise counsellors. Who are you hanging out with? What does your circle of influence look like? Even if you’re mature enough to resist peer pressure, the people you are always seen with will be the same people your character is associated with in rooms you’ll perhaps never sit in. Psalm 1:1 reads, “Blessed are those who walk not in the counsel of the ungodly”. I dare say, incorruptible are those who walk not in the counsel of the corrupt!
- Find a mentor who is walking the path you desire
Find someone more advanced than you in the field you’re in, they do not have to be older, and ask them to be your mentor. This is someone who will help you grow and direct you towards the right doors for success. You need to make sure that their path is the kind that you desire to walk on. Mentors can only lead us where they themselves have walked before. Or at least somewhere they saw on their journey to where they currently are.
- Call others out on their corruption
This will not make you the most popular leader but you need to be an advocate. This doesn’t mean becoming a member of black twitter or police people on social media. You do not even have to be loud about it. A good example is Lord Acton. He knew that the issue couldn’t be addressed with the officers who were unjustly persecuting people but rather with those under whose authority the officers were working. As Activators, we are taught how local government works all the way up to national government. Challenge corruption in a manner that really matters, one that makes a sustainable difference.
- Be vocal and walk out your standards
As an advocate, not only are you meant to call people out, you’re also expected to walk out what you talk about. While you won’t always be perfect, being transparent and owning up to your mistakes will create a character of uprightness.
- Do not compromise, not even once!
Nobody starts off bad, it all begins with a small compromise… and then another… and then one a little bigger, until your conscience is totally oblivious to your corruption. To avoid being corrupted in the first place, don’t compromise!
In summary, for one not to be corrupted by power, one has to be willing to lead within a collective, as only one part of a team that can function well without them. It is said that the sign of a successful leader is that the team can function optimally in their absence. Relinquish power, have a succession plan and do not create a career out of leadership. If you never hoard power and do the 10 things listed above, you can almost be definitely sure that you will not be corrupted, regardless of the magnitude of the platform you’re given. Ending corruption begins with you and me!
Photo credit: The Conversation (https://theconversation.com/