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What Does It Mean to Lead by Example?

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No one likes political hypocrisy—or any other kind of false or untrustworthy leadership! How will God’s plan solve this problem?

A year has passed since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. It has been a year of economic difficulty, anxiety, separation from family and friends, loss, and, for some, stressful online schooling. Most would agree that we could all use a vacation after 2020!

The Caribbean island of St. Barthélemy sounds ideal, with its beautiful white sand beaches, tropical weather, and numerous comfortable resorts—or, who wouldn’t love to get the whole family together for a vacation in Hawaii? California, Mexico, Greece—do any of those sound enticing? While those destinations are indeed picturesque, how many simply want to visit relatives they have been unable to see for more than a year? How many long to visit an ailing parent or grandparent, but don’t because of a current government mandate to “stay home”?

While most citizens strive to adhere to the ever-changing regulations and travel restrictions, several officials of governments issuing those restrictions visited each of the locations above. Some trips resulted in forced resignations, while others were “remedied” with Facebook apologies. This hypocrisy is not limited to a single political party, nor is it confined to Canadian officials. It is a crisis in leadership at all levels and seemingly everywhere.

The Trust Deficit

Sadly, many politicians and administrators around the world have taken a “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude—certainly not all of them, but enough to erode the fragile trust between governments and the people they are supposed to serve.

We live in an age where misinformation is at an all-time high; one of the greatest challenges of combating this pandemic has been convincing some of the population that there is a real pandemic at all, and most of the population that their individual actions can either prolong or shorten the crisis. When seeking his party’s United States presidential nomination in 2012, former governor John Huntsman often spoke of the “trust deficit” that has developed between the American people and their government. But the trust deficit is not just an American problem. It is a human problem—present in countries all over the world.

Those in leadership must never forget that their actions—their examples—have significant potential to inspire or dishearten those they serve. An article published by Global News shows the effect hypocrisy is having today: “Sure, politicians have long been called out for hypocrisy. But during a pandemic that’s forced millions into seclusion and left many without paychecks, [hypocritical] actions can feel like a personal insult—reinforcing the idea ‘that some people just don’t have to follow the rules while the rest of us do’” (“‘People hate hypocrisy’: Anger high when politicians break coronavirus rules,” December 19, 2020).

The Result of Fractured Trust

Should it surprise us that fewer and fewer citizens are following the guidelines? The Globe and Mail published data showing how many Canadians travelled over the winter holidays in 2020. While the numbers were substantially lower than those of a typical winter break, “Roughly 1.2 million people in Canada, many of them from affluent neighbourhoods, spent at least one night away from home over the holidays even as governments were urging people not to congregate, according to an analysis of location data” (“More Than a Million Canadians Engaged in Overnight Holiday-Season Travel, Data Show,” January 21, 2021).

The report generated enough buzz, and the numbers caused enough of a stir, to elicit a response from the highest elected office in the land: “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the report Friday by urging anyone planning a trip abroad to cancel it. ‘My message to Canadians remains clear, no one should be taking a vacation abroad right now,’ Trudeau said…. With March break around the corner, the prime minister emphasized: ‘Don’t book a trip for spring break’” (“PM urges Canadians to cancel travel plans after data reveals 1M travelled over holidays,” CTVNews.ca, January 22, 2021).

Many will heed the Prime Minister’s plea. But how many will instead follow the examples of certain leaders and travel anyway? When fewer individuals follow the guidelines, infection rates tend to increase. This, in turn, results in tighter restrictions. The tighter the restrictions, the more people see them as examples of governmental overreach and so ignore them, pointing to the poor examples of their leaders as reason enough. The result of hypocritical leadership is a vicious cycle that destroys trust and optimism and only serves to increase the polarization currently wreaking havoc on society.

Creating Trustworthy Leaders

“Do as I say, not as I do” is usually a symptom of a ruling class that believes rules don’t apply to it. Leaders often justify their indiscretions by explaining that their situation differs from that of the common man. If ever there were a Being who could get away with saying, “Do as I say, not as I do,” it would be the Creator of the Universe. However, far from His living by different rules than He gave, the laws He gave mankind actually describe His mind and heart. Longtime readers of Tomorrow’s World understand that the purpose of the law outlined in Scripture is to build in us the same character that our Creator possesses. He wants us to be like Him, and to that end, He leads by example!

The Supreme Being powerful and wise enough to design and put in motion the entire universe can be understood by what He cannot—or will not—do, as well as by what He does. Consider two examples of God following the same laws that He created for man.

The Apostle Paul was inspired to say that God cannot lie (Titus 1:1–2). This does not mean that God is not smart enough to lie convincingly. Rather, His law is absolute: Wrong is always wrong. The character He desires for each of us is a reflection of His own. He does not ask us to live up to a standard that He Himself ignores. God inspired this passage to show us that He is no hypocrite. How many parents instruct their children that lying is wrong, but also tell them that if they misbehave, they’ll “end up on Santa’s naughty list”?

Another example can be found in the book of Genesis. The opening verses of Genesis 2 show that God rested on the seventh day after six days of creation. Would anyone argue that God was just too tired to carry on—that He had overexerted Himself to the point of needing a nap? Of course not! He set an example, keeping what would later be codified as the Fourth Commandment—that we are to rest on the seventh day—even though He did not need the rest. This is an example of godly leadership that we should strive to emulate.

The reason God is working to develop our character is that He intends to use individuals with good character in leadership roles. He expects those who lead to lead by example. If you would like to learn more about the results of righteous leadership, be sure to request a free copy of The World Ahead: What Will It Be Like? or read it online at TomorrowsWorld.org.

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