How come that heads of state and CEOs of large corporations can still exercise power without any fear of being sanctioned even though they publicly displayed unethical behaviour?

One would assume that in a postmodern world an open and cooperative culture of discussion applies to the upper ranks of management and politics, which sanctions moral wrongdoing. But far from it: It appears that moral prerequisites and requirements don’t necessarily apply without fail in reality. Or to put it differently, does the power of office protect its bearer even in the event of misconduct and how is this even possible?

First, what is morality? The term morality (lat. mos / ἦθος) is used to refer to norms of conduct guiding people’s behaviour. They are social codes of conduct on the basis of which moral value is ascribed to human actions. Hence, morality has to be filled with life.

Power (δύναμις) is defined as a political power by Plato (Politeia, V, 473d) and as an ability and virtue by Aristotle, whereas Nietzsche defines power as an unreal, virtual or potential will and Foucault sees power as a relation which exists only when put into action. Weber distinguishes between power, leadership and rule and defines power as „every chance within a social relationship to assert one’s will even against opposition”1. Power permeates thinking and life. However, the question if power in itself is either good or bad or real or just seems to be real, must be ignored at this point.

Power of office means the power being adhered to the office as such, power through prestige without necessarily presupposing the exemplary qualities of the bearer (authority through personality).

By taking over of a new office the conduct of the bearer seems to be altered into the fourth persona according to Cicero (De officiis) or as Erving Goffman coined the term “face”. Inherent to a new position is a certain habitus and subsequent rhetoric that the office dictates in the bearer’s imagination. He is aware of the expectations of others that are placed on him in office and responds accordingly. Or, to put it another way with Shakespeare:

 „All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts …” 2.

Based on these requirements, one would have to assume that skill (δύναμις) and virtue (ἀρετή) are now united in the person holding the office. Sadly, this is not always the case. A public figure accepts a persona according to the office that he either truly is or just pretends to be. In rhetoric, it is less important if this persona is genuine but rather whether the role is conducted appropriately and with credibility. According to Cicero, this comes true when all four personae accomplish an „internal harmony of the soul” (DO I, 93-151). It’s the social ethos that counts. According to Goffman, face is „the positive social value” (On face work. S. 5). It is an image that the orator is creating of himself in order to receive sympathy for himself and to tilt the situation and the communicative interaction in his favor.

In order to be able to fill such an office with life, personal prerequisites are required that go beyond the call of duty: it is the individual authority reflected in the bearer’s personality which is most compelling and therefore genuine. Composed of inner strength, maturity and brilliancy in thinking (the ability to reflect) and deeds. Corporations and parties are micro-societies that are structured hierarchically. It is their hierarchy that makes them capable of acting but this makes it difficult to limit power through mutual control. How should the employee correct the behavior of the managing director? How to overcome this gap of power that protects the upper rank?

It is made possible through a respectful and responsible corporate culture in which values and open discourse are lived. Values are no hollow set of content for advertising campaigns but they are the fundamental backbone of our community in which companies are a big part of. (See the studies of the University of Miami and of the China European Business School about Corporate Social Responsibility and the Cone-surveys.)3

Adam Smith’s concept of the „inner judge” and Lévinas’ concept of „the Other as my master” must be considered as valuable principles in philosophy that cannot always be applied in reality due to the systematic power relations. Power emanates from office but not necessarily morality. This can also be seen in a change in the rhetoric of the office. Social ethos and individual conscience are opposed to each other but they can also enrich each other. The crisis ravaged year 2020 made it blatantly obvious that a critical public perceives the discrepancy between artificial power manifested in a personality deficit and genuine leadership in form of a steadfast persona firmly rooted in strong character.4

An authentic leader is someone who is aware of the fact that he acts as a leader to people by respecting and reinforcing values and not by just heading meetings. The true qualities of genuine leadership through authenticity, trust and confidence represent real power insofar as people who work alongside him are giving their hearts and souls to the business at hand when he is around which in turn enables culture and culture represents the foundation of society.

1 Max Weber: Grundriss der verstehenden Soziologie. (1947) III, S. 28.

2 William Shakespeare: As you like it. II, 7.

3 “Töchter heben die Moral” (Februar 2016), unter:; last access: 26.05.2020; “Warum integre Manager mehr verdienen sollten. Wie hält es ihr CEO mit der Moral?”, 3. Teil (30.9.2008), unter:; last access: 26.05.2020 und; last access: 26.05.2020.

4 Mark R. Kramer: “Coronavirus is putting Corporate Social Responsibility to the test”, in: Harvard Business Review (01.04.2020), unter:; last access: 26.05.2020.