I never wanted to lead. The role would be handed to me, asked of me, forced on me or I just wound up in the position by default because nobody else could do it. When I first started my leadership journey in my late teens, I noticed a trend; a trend that has persisted till today, close to a decade and a half later.
Whether I had the skills or experience a la Harvard Business Review wasn’t even part of the decision-making criteria for the people who handpicked me. I never even applied for the job. People thought I could do it and they would tell me that I was going to do it. The more I protested, the more it would be thrust upon me.
Over time, I came to the conclusion that the single most important qualifying criteria for a leader is not wanting to do it at all. That’s why I was chosen time and time again. In fact, the leaders who chose me told me that the very fact that I didn’t want to do it; rendered me the perfect candidate.
With time, I came to notice another peculiar trend. People would constantly ask me what to do. They would ask for my advice and then they would disregard it completely–usually when I told them something they didn’t want to hear. They were experts at answering back, arguing and being in a state of indignation. They were full of explanations and justifications. They were full of ideals that they wanted me to work for on their behalf.
The consensus I eventually came to was: people want to be told what to do and then they don’t want to listen.
Which leads me to conclude: what kind of delusional world do we live in?
The Academic Answer
Do fair and just elections deliver the kind of political leaders that people need? Does the freedom to choose actually allow us to make the right decisions? At a particular point in human history, it must have. But as our choices grew increasingly complex and multifaceted, our freedom to choose has led us to make poor choices. We have become susceptible to short-term manoeuvring that has no potential to create long-term results.
In the early days of my leadership journey, leaders were chosen by the former leadership team. My ‘voters’ were people who had done the job and were confident that I could do it. In fact, I couldn’t even say ‘No’ to their request as that would have been detrimental to my career. It wasn’t even an option to say ‘No’.
According to a 2019 Pew Survey, 55% of respondents were unsatisfied with the way that democracies were functioning. Voters woes are largely related to economic frustration, the status of individual rights, as well as a perception that political elites are corrupt and do not care about average citizens.
After a euphoric short-lived honeymoon period between voters and their winning candidate, the leader invariably always disappoints. Why? Is it the fault of the voters? Does their whimsical nature permit them to expect too much? Do they not understand the hidden complexities behind job? Should they just expect that campaign promises won’t be kept?
Would it then be safe to conclude that it is not the promises of the politician we were interested in; but whether or not they got us results?
Voters are patient and even tolerant of personal shortcomings and mishaps. But what voters simply will not tolerate is: a lack of results. The best leaders are usually the strong ones. The ones that we may not necessary like but the ones whom we respect to get the job done.
If we are disappointed in our leader, it is because they didn’t do the job they were meant to do. They didn’t make a comeback from their failures. They didn’t get back up after they were down. And most importantly, they did the wrong thing and got the wrong result.
On the other hand, there are many leaders who do the wrong thing and get the right result. We tolerate those leaders. We celebrate them. Other leaders even try to emulate them. They kept their eye on whether or not their policies were bringing them closer or further away from the results they were trying to achieve.
And while they may not have fulfilled all of their promises, they ensured that their legacy did not leave people worse off than before their arrival on the scene.
A Strong Polity
A strong polity is not simply the product of a strong system. No matter how zealous the Americans and Europeans are regarding the democratic apparatus as an inescapable ingredient for a fair and just society, we cannot build a strong system based on ideology alone. The system must first be appropriate for the environment and then it must be fed with the right ingredients to make it all work.
To reach a place of political consolidation–the system, the environment and the people all need to be in alignment. We cannot celebrate dissent and seek stability.
At the end of the day, a leader has a job to do and cannot be swayed by temporary changes and ups and downs–especially if he or she is seeking to go down in history as a great moderniser and a deft administrator. To be both these things and to do them well, a political leader has to be committed to rapid economic growth as well as remain personally incorruptible. He has to be willing to forgo short-term gains to reach long-term goals. No one ever said it was going to be easy.
In the early days of political consolidation, a leader is a figurehead, a masthead or even a central figure in a political movement. It is, however, not a one man show. It never is. It is often described a cult of personality when the leader becomes an icon for the party and the nation-state. Strong leaders can and do create a point a unity.
When it comes to changes in government policy, it takes time before the full effect of those policies actually materialise. Whether the changes are supported or criticised do not have much bearing on the outcome of those policies. This is just chit chat chatter and talk.
Grassroots politics is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Politics is now the arena of the learned man and woman or the elite; and yet, decisions made in the political arena touch everyone. The liberal camp, while well-meaning, is usually short-sighted. Why? Idealism, a lack of sufficient exposure and a lack of follow through. The traditional camp, in an attempt to stick to the status quo, usually ends up betraying the very doctrine they claim to endorse.
Once the alienation between the self-professed intelligentsia and traditional society is complete; a deep divide emerges–and before you know it there is an untethered gulf between the two and no bridge.
How did this happen? Well, the answer is simple. When we act like certain groups of people don’t exist, they get stronger; not weaker. Both sides are guilty of this. There is no right and no left. Even when the media leans left, which it tends to, due to its own bias; the voters walk right. This has happened time and time again. It is not the leadership style that is of concern but the results that the leader manages to achieve.
The moment a leader seeks to consolidate and build a cohesive core and structure; he is called a fascist, a dictator, a tyrant and is compared to the worst of the worst. They are charged with intolerance and deemed hostile towards dissent. A healthy dose of opposition is necessary for democracy to work. But too much opposition and no policy ever succeeds in reaching its long-term goals.
Nationalism is an aggressive political ideology. When our loyalties are divided, a nation cannot exist; much less a nation with a strong core. The rights of minorities shouldn’t allow for divided loyalties. A nation is not just a plot of land or a piece of territory, but an inner landscape that exists within the hearts and souls of the people who reside there.
What inner landscape is shaping our political views? If we don’t consolidate our inner landscape, it is only a matter of time before the external landscape catches up with us and forces us to see what we really believe in. But by that time, all that’s left to do, is shut our eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist.
The untethered gulf… is real. Once it grows too big, all that’s left to do is throw arrows at your target in a frustrated attempt to hit a goal that no longer exists.
Long story short, we need strong leaders who can get results. This requires us, the people, to commit; as well as our leaders to commit to us. Without this commitment, we’re stuck with the flavour of the day, till we grow bored and ask for a new one; and then proceed to do it again and again.