Ethical leadership - The Vincent Fairfax Fellowship
This article was published in Living Ethics: issue 56 winter 2004
The Vincent Fairfax Fellowship provides young Australians with an opportunity to develop practices and habits of ethical leadership. Quality of leadership is critical to any endeavour. We expect that graduates of this program will not only significantly and positively impact on that quality in the particular areas of society that they influence, but will also have a material effect on the quality of leadership across Australian society as a whole.
The idea for this leadership program was conceived out of initial conversations between Geoffrey White, Executive Director of the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and Simon Longstaff, Executive Director of what was then the very young St James Ethics Centre.
Sir Vincent Fairfax had a lifelong interest in questions of leadership and especially how best to encourage and develop leaders with a commitment to service in the public interest. The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation was keen to support an initiative that might reach out to younger Australians and develop their capacity to lead. As conversations progressed, it became clear that although there was a recognised need to develop generic leadership skills, a significant aspect of Sir Vincent's life had been the ethical character of his leadership. These conversations led to the launch, in 1994, of the Vincent Fairfax Ethics in Leadership Awards, later renamed the Vincent Fairfax Fellowship.
One of the challenges we face with this program arises when we are asked to offer a concise and meaningful picture of what is a rich and complex process of development for participating Fellows, a process extending well beyond the confines of the program activity itself. Our attempts to describe it can make it sound like a program of personal development - it is certainly that, but much more. Our lack of punchy description and reluctance to talk about 'results' may give the impression that we are unconcerned about the program's broader societal impact - yet quite the opposite is true.
It is our hope that readers of this issue of Living Ethics will develop a picture of how the various aspects of the Vincent Fairfax Fellowship program aim to raise the quality of leadership in Australia, and come to an appreciation of what we mean by ethical leadership, why it is a worthwhile approach and how its development works in the lives of participating Fellows.
When Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes, one of the US Supreme Court's more quotable members, wrote, "I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side", he could well have been summing up our understanding of ethical leadership. The world is complex, and confounds easy answers and solutions. Some things remain a mystery despite the attention of our finest scientific and philosophical minds.
What is needed are men and women in all areas of our society who resist the call for the easy answer or the solution that meets 80% of the obvious outcomes, but instead seek to understand the effect on the remaining 20%.
People who will not accept 'that's just the way it is' as a reason for action, but will find new ways to approach the issues that matter. These men and women will care about the kind of society we are and are becoming. They will seek to influence where they can to lead us to a more consciously aware society, one in which each member seeks to understand the consequences of their actions and to take responsibility for them.
Learn more about the Vincent Fairfax Fellowship ethics in leadership program.