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Today's recruiting shapes tomorrow's ethics

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 3:58AM

Earlier posts discussed the importance of setting the tone at the top with policies ofremuneration and rewards, and output versus outcomes. The focus now shifts to recruitment.

The selection of leaders is of paramount importance. It determines upon whose head the power rests and the process for recruitment of other office bearers.

A question, then, is whether the power to make decisions should rest with a few, who may be related or are affiliated in some way? Or should it be diffused, and put in the hands of many, who are unconnected to each other and did not rise from a few families or small group?

Let us now examine two contrasting models in two cities, albeit centuries apart.

In Paris, the École nationale d'administration (National School of Administration) was founded in 1945 by Charles de Gaulle, to produce technocrats and bureaucrats for the French government. Selection is based solely on academic proficiency and competitive examinations.“Graduates of the school, called énarques, are ranked to decide their future careers. Top students can choose the plum jobs in the elite diplomatic corps or the inspection of finances, and laggards are banished to prefectures in the provinces -- a system that reinforces the elitism the school is now being criticized for.  See, for example, Craig R. Whitney of the New York Times.

Venice during the Renaissance adopted the system of government where the power of leadership rested on the Doge. The elective machinery for the selection of the Doges (1268) was incorruptibly complex and convoluted, involving layers of sortition (lots) and electorial colleges, the aim of which was to minimize as far as possible the influence of individuals and families, and to eliminate corruption by making the system hard to game.While the rest of Italy was in decline, Venice experienced her golden age under the sagacious leadership of the Doges.

Confucius lived during a time when China was divided and run by Dukes and their feuding aristocratic families. Although his teachings were revered by some, he had no influence over ruling families or cliques of people with views which opposed his teachings.  

Confucius was willing to serve in public positions. And he paid close attention to whether he possessed the qualities that entitled him to be in office. Failing to receive recognition didn't bother him. What did matter was striving to do the things which would enable him to be recognized.

As for his recruitment, he was only appointed to political office at the age of 50, first as the minister of Public Works and later Minister of Crime. During his watch peace and order were restored. But his appointment was short-lived as he was powerless in a miasma of politics, corruption, nepotism and cronyism where the power rested in a few families or their friends.

For Confucius, his experience with public service in ancient China more closely resembled the modern French example than that of the Doges' Venice, where complex recruiting machinations protected civil servants from the whims of the elites.