A Lack of Values in Leadership

The question of values in leadership boils down to why people seek leadership positions in the first place. Put very simply, if people want to win elections so they can improve the lot of the people and serve the nation, obviously they will take decisions along those lines. The Survey on the Global Agenda tells us that people in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa are particularly worried about this challenge, and speaking for Africa, I can say we've seen too many people who seek power in order to make money, exert influence and spread money to their friends and cronies.

In reality, it's more complex than that. Most people are neither one thing nor the other, so it becomes a question of degrees; to what extent do our leaders want to serve for the common good, and how much can that become tainted by the desire to do well for themselves and their families? The more shortsighted leaders fail to recognize that the common good is actually the only real way to prosper in the long term. Because no matter how well I do, I couldn't feel secure in a country in which the majority of people are struggling. In a country like that, nobody is secure.

Young people tend to have the strongest feelings on this issue; respondents under 40 told the Survey that they're not at all satisfied with the attention governments give to a lack of values in leadership. And they have every reason to be critical. They look around them, they see where the nation is heading and they don't want to go there. And yet they find they have no way of changing that direction because they're considered too young and inexperienced to be important.

Education is key to changing that, because while we can't always change things immediately, we should at least be able to understand what is happening and complain if we don't like it. And when enough people do that, a critical mass builds and a group of people will emerge with an agenda for genuine change.

Most people's understanding of a lack of values in leadership probably relates to the problem of leaders simply caring about their own interests, rather than being motivated by something more worthwhile. We expect leaders not to just stick to what they know, but to be driven by something that moves us forward and brings people together. And so, in reality, the concern is that there's not enough sharing of views, values and vision.

Underlying the current conditions is the fact that we've never had access to such a wide variety of information. That gives rise to millions of different opinions and in this sense we -- and our leaders -- have to find the kind of directions we should be taking. So it's not a lack of values that we should be worried about, rather it's the kind of values. It has to be something that is not just about self-interest, but something that can be shared widely.

My hope is that we can create a global vision that takes into account not only those who benefit, but also those groups that are negatively affected, and makes the negative impacts as limited as possible.

It may be impossible for leaders to know the interests of all, but I think the best leaders look to as wide an audience as possible. It is important that we don't just look to maintain our own interests, or those of our immediate neighbors. Knowledge becomes relevant when responsible global decisions come from leaders who can draw upon a global knowledge base.

We cannot expect all leaders to be saints, or to have no interests of their own, or know everything about everybody -- that is clearly impossible. But, in terms of developing a positive global vision, the sharing of information is key. We must work hard to present people with a different range of ideas, interests and visions, and introduce different types of people, information and values in an attempt to bring about understanding. There's always room for learning. If leaders stop learning, then it's the end.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum to mark the Forum's Annual Meeting 2014 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 22-25). The Forum's Network of Global Agenda Councils consists of more than 80 select groups of experts, each focused on key topics in the global arena, that collectively serve as an advisory board to the Forum and other interested parties, such as governments and international organizations. Read all posts in this series forecasting global trends for 2014 here.