I REFER to the letter by Dr I. Lourdesamy, chief executive of Pacific Institute of Technology, "Checks and balances vital" (NST, June 29).
He said: "It does not mean we cannot have clean governments. There are many examples of good governments that are transparent, accountable and clean."
However, the trouble is that "the tendency to abuse power is too great to be left to individual altruism and moral platitudes".
The reason he gave was that moral codes were ineffective in the real Darwinian world. He suggested a system of checks and balances to control the greed of those in power and position.
Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, writing about his observations on leadership in "The rise of popularism" (NST, June 25), wrote that there was a leadership deficit: "So few people are capable of inspiring people to meet challenges."
He cited some cases where leaders, "when they've had the opportunity to go big, they've chosen to go small".
This was because they were busy going to the places where the people were: they were busy reading polls, tracking blogs, tallying Twitter feeds and updating Facebook postings.
Friedman said: "The constant interaction is making it more difficult for them to make sensible, brave decisions."
And this, he said, was causing a "real mismatch and leadership challenge". His question: if everyone is following, who is leading?
This makes us ask: who are leaders? What are they supposed to do? What is the leadership challenge?
I remember a student who wrote that leaders' job was "to lead and communicate. Leaders have to do what others are not able to do and their role is to set the path for people to trail and the leadership challenge is to be clear and correct so that messages and meaning are well understood".
In Friedman's words, a leader had to take people to where he thought they needed to go. When a leader starts to deal with people or insult them, it is an indication of misleading and miscommunicating.
Lourdesamy suggested checks and balances to safeguard and protect people from becoming vulnerable to the excessive power and greed of leaders.
It is like the story of King Midas, who had the power to turn everything he touched into gold. Soon, he lost his sense of judgment of what should be turned into gold.
The History Channel's rating of eight infamous leaders was disturbing.
It showed Caligula as a sadist and raving lunatic; Attila for savagery; Julius Caesar's ego turned allies into enemies; Hannibal was history's cruellest general; Genghis Khan killed a quarter of the world's population; Nero was linked with incest and murder; Alexander the Great, a military genius, killed members of his own family; and Cleopatra, though noted for her intelligence, was driven by power and ambition.
The television channel's way of profiling leaders was simple and straightforward.
Perhaps, if the infamous historical figures had been subjected to checks and balances, they might have become good leaders.
Therefore, Lourdesamy's suggestion sounds relevant in that leaders need a support system that will guard against their power and personal ambition.
There are two types of leaders: one who shapes events for the better and leaves a legacy, and a disturbed one who wants power to meet his ambition.
Therefore, there must be an assessment done to select leaders with positive traits.
There are many methods and technologies to assess the unknown traits of individuals. For example, they should take a lie-detector test.
Johari's Window is a simple model that can assess what leaders can or cannot do.
It has to be said that power is too great to be left to individual altruism, and before it is left to individual altruism, the stepping stones of altruism must be laid.
It is better to have measures to protect leaders than to let them be, and be listed as infamous leaders.
In the interest of the future, the process to distinguish good and strong leaders must be embedded in the system.
The bar for leaders must be raised. The indicators should include the leaders' ability to lead, set the right path and communicate the way forward.
By Mena Jeyaram, Subang Jaya, Selangor Source: New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 09 July 2012