a month ago

Leadership . . . in substance and form

Cartoon: THT
Cartoon: THT

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Leadership is in crisis almost everywhere across the globe. In our era, let us admit, leadership is up against gigantic impediments. Even so, the world needs good leaders, for the world cannot afford to slip into chaos.

A defining quality of leadership is to bring people together. Leaders who remain imprisoned in the partisan cages of politics are men and women who cause embarrassment to themselves and do incalculable damage to their societies. The true mark of a leader consists in his or her ability to climb the greasy pole of politics without giving up, without being let down by frustration; and once at the top, this leader surveys the entirety of the landscape below, all the people below, to reassure them that the future is safe, that a beautiful tapestry of the future beckons.

Leadership goes missing when it gets trapped in insensitivity. The leader speaks for all citizens and as first citizen remains cognizant of the worries and the trauma which drill holes in the lives of the humble men and women on the strength of whose support leaders take centre stage or gain prominence in society. Leaders have the larger picture before them, a portrait across which they sketch their dreams of the societies and nations they mean to reconfigure to the advantage of citizens. And yet there are the smaller, minor details which leaders must focus on every minute and every hour of the day. Leadership is a matter of keeping intact the overarching principles of national aspirations; and it is also a demand on the leader to remain aware of the prices of food and of everything else that citizens need to keep their strenuous quotidian lives going.

Leaders are men and women whose sense of equanimity and calm reassure people that while life may not exactly be a celebration, it holds in itself the potential to be better. Purposeful leadership tames the emotions of people, understands their worries and seeks to formulate policies which offer a future that is at a positive remove from the present. Leaders do not promise the moon, the unattainable. Leadership is forever a matter of pragmatism, of informing people of the impediments along the road even as it means to find the means of going around the hurdles in order to reach the goals it sets out for a nation.

Strong leadership is leadership in whose hands the faith and trust of societies are placed without question. It is leadership which knows in minute detail the geography of the land, the heritage which has come down the ages, the passions which beat in the hearts of the general masses of citizens. Leaders do not distinguish between classes and creeds and faiths and parties, for they must reach out beyond themselves and their followers to those who are not in their camp but whose interests and welfare must be taken account of.

Leadership cannot be parochial in nature. Leaders at the national level in any country are individuals who have painstakingly and successfully graduated from the narrow confines of party politics to gain passage to a wider dimension of a comprehension of popular aspirations. Leaders do not put up barriers between themselves and their adversaries; they pull down barriers to welcome everyone, supporter and detractor alike, into the tent. It is a larger tent which the leader pitches on the grass, with room for everyone to come in, engage in conversation on issues of contemporary significance and leave with the feeling that the future of society and of the country is in good, caring hands.

Leadership is a matter of intellectual accomplishment. Leaders must have their pulse on society's demands and dreams, a duty which requires them to read extensively. An effective leader is one who reads up on matters and issues he or she may not agree with but which will make him or her rethink significant national and global issues. Leadership therefore must be based on knowledge derived from a thorough reading of books, of newspapers, of journals and on an ability and willingness to listen to the other person's point of view. Leadership acquires greater and firmer substance through interaction with people on the other side of the fence. It loses meaning, gets to be enervated and haemorrhages when it begins to demonstrate self-satisfaction at the fulsome praise of sycophants. True leadership is a matter of keeping hangers-on, toadies and sycophants outside the door.

Leaders must be on top of things. They abjure the company of yes-men and are not dependent on the bureaucracy to guide them through the tortuous, winding passages of governance. A leader respects his or her colleagues and listens carefully to the advice proffered by those manning the administration, but in the ultimate sense the leader must convince those around the table that he or she has the intricate details of government in hand.  An ability to be decisive rather than be procrastinating or feeble where issues of public import are concerned is a synonym for stable, strong leadership.

Leadership does not look for scapegoats to explain away a bad or embarrassing situation. Leaders do not point the finger for their failures at others. Confronted with uncomfortable questions, they do not waffle or lose their temper; they respond to the questions with confidence. Good leadership is a matter of tapping talent across the board, of a willingness to learn from enlightened sections of society. It is a readiness on the part of the leader to show incompetent or corrupt colleagues the door, thus giving government whole layers of meaning.

Leadership is a matter of being formidable in the exercise of power. For a leader, incessant workings of the mind, in the sense of firmness, are called for, together with a constant working of compassion in the heart. Good leaders are never authoritarian, but there is in them a sureness of purpose, an authoritative bearing, a comprehensive understanding of the needs of their nations.

Hubris in a leader eats away at the roots of what could have been a cool, shade-providing tree to a community. Leadership in the end is an insistent demonstration of humility, upon which humility is sketched the leader's visions of the future.

Leaders are, indeed must be, people lonely at the top. That vantage point shapes the grandeur in which leadership finds its true meaning.

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