The Art of Prudence

One writer’s key lesson from Sophocles’ “Antigone” is that fanaticism results when public actors fail to practice the one virtue capable of moderating the  excesses of human nature:  political prudence.

What is one of the most frequent excess? the Temptations of Power

The  American  Franciscan priest and writer on spirituality,  Richard Rohr, has described this all too human aspect  from his religious perspective.   I paraphrase his cautions.

One fatal snare is to misuse power. “Maybe we could say it’s a temptation to be spectacular, to be special, to be important, to be showy. The tempter says, “Tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3). When we’re young, we all want that. We all want to stand out. We want people to notice us. We want to be something special and to do something special.” 

Another excess is the temptations of power whether politically earned or from one’s professional position. “It’s not inherently wrong. There has to be a way we can use power for good. But until we’re tested, and until we don’t need it too much, we will almost always misuse it. If we’re not tested in the ways of power, very often we end up worshiping power to have power.”

When Prudence is Lacking

It is easy to confuse disagreement with a person in authority versus someone who  is  misusing or even failing in their position and accountability.

I would call out three  frequent symptoms of lapses in leadership:

  1. The explanation for an unfinished /failed effort that it was another person or organization that is responsible for what did or didn’t happen.
  2. The defense of a failed outcome asserting the cause was a lack of resources or authority.
  3. The resort to cliches to explain one’s actions such as: “better service for members”, “promoting  safety and soundness”  or  “the banks have this option and so should we.”

Positions of power are generally temporary.   The tenure can be especially problematic  if the responsibly of the role is not fully grasped.  Especially in situations in which a leader does not acknowledge agency-that is personal responsibility or accountability:  “staff, our consultant, our experts recommended this action; this is how others do it or, the classic, this is how we have always done it.”

Prudence is also a personal quality.  In successful leaders  it can be marked  by  both empathy and humbleness.

I  believe there are daily examples  from  peers or colleagues from which one can learn.  Especially when sharing initiatives, experiences and challenges of mutual interest.

My  former partner Bucky Sebastian would sometimes comment on  the views or actions of  persons in authority whom he believed in error:  “Everyone has a purpose in life, even if it is to serve as a bad example.”

Credit union leaders -CEO’s, boards, regulators, trades and even vendors-are public actors.  Prudence is cultivated  in public arenas  by the respectful exchange of arguments among those attuned to both their personal and their community responsibilities.

Identify  those leaders to make common cause.

Learn from those who fit Bucky’s description.





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