Where Are All The Good Candidates?

As we slog through the presidential election season, a familiar plaint is heard: “Where are all the good candidates? There seems to be so few acceptable choices.”  This is not a post about which party or which candidate is better for the country. It is debatable, though not something I engage in.  To me, the more interesting point, one not debatable, is that among the approximately 175 million people who are eligible to run for president (including at least one born in Canada), there are so few who are actually qualified – who have the emotional intelligence, strong values, high IQ, management skills and a desire to change the world for the better- who want to run. But surely, you ask, there must be millions who have those traits and desire. Why aren’t they candidates. Where are they and what are they doing?

There is ample evidence that governing today is a futile exercise. The congress thwarts the president and the two parties in each chamber maneuver to win small political points resulting in gridlock. And the profession denigrates itself: public trust surveys place politicians below used car salesmen; the majority of my Google word searches for articles on ethics yield those on government officials and ethics officers under indictment; and there is a steady march of once-revered elected officials from courthouse to prison.

The answer, I believe, is that the nonprofit and corporate sectors are where real positive change can be, and is, affected. The nonprofit profession has always attracted those who want to change the world: eliminate disease, educate the less fortunate, and rehabilitate the infirmed and the imprisoned. Organizations led by mission-driven leaders whose purpose is to change the world. And for the most part, they are paid less than government officials and have fewer career options if they were to leave the sector.  The best possess the requisite intelligences, values and ethics and are clear about their purpose. The sector continues to grow, engages and retains a large group of dedicated leaders (many now retiring) and attracts many bright Millennials who are driven to make a difference.

Yes, of course, but, you may ask, the corporate sector? “Isn’t that where the money-hungry, winner take all, self-centered Masters of the Universe congregate?” Sure, some of them; and they give the rest of the sector a bad rap. Today, in spite of many in government who care little about sustaining natural resources, or the environment, or immigrants, business leaders recognize their corporate responsibility to the greater good and by doing so are attracting others like them.

Corporate social responsibility is no longer a public relations ploy, or a feel good thing, or, as Milton Freidman famously wrote, only engaged in to fool the public. CSR is a concerted effort by most of the corporate sector to use its resources, know-how and influence to change the word.

To name a few is not to exclude the many others: all of PNC Bank’s new buildings are built to the highest LEEDS standards, reducing the carbon footprint and preserving resources; Disney is planning and acting to address global warming, thinking about the children who visit their parks fifty years from now; Daimler is building temporary housing for the hundreds of thousands of refugees entering Germany.

Corporate social responsibility is becoming systemic. Indian corporations will soon be required to set aside a percentage of their profits for social enterprises; European corporations report on their social value as well as their return on shareholder value; and a whole generation of American capitalists is pledging their wealth for social purposes.

Corporations no longer are forced by law or guided by government to “stop doing bad things.” Many are doing good in spite of government.

Why are our choices for president so poor, or at least, so limited? I believe it is because those who want to make a change have better platforms to do so – the nonprofit and corporate sectors.  Neither of those sectors can operate without the rule of law.  But until government does a better job of governing itself, we will need to look to they who choose the other sectors to make a better world.


James Abruzzo is co-founder of the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers Business School that is presenting a Certificate in Corporate Social Responsibility, April 26 and 27, 2016.

James Abruzzo, Consultant, Consulting, Executive Search, Nonprofit Compensation, Expert Witness, Good Candidates

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