Global Leadership Crisis

.. by Raza Muhammad Khan

ACCORDING to a 2015 World Economic Forum (WEF) survey, 86% of respondents on the Global Agenda agreed about a crisis of leadership in the world. The WEF experts also concluded that since leaders’ powers and competencies did not match necessarily, they fail to discharge their responsibilities to the full benefit of the led. Perhaps, Pakistan is one such country, among many in the world. Some panaceas advocated by WEF to remedy this predicament include the ‘need for moral, effective leadership, collaborating and communicating across boundaries. While these ideas are effective, other traits are desirable to respond to and recover from real-world crises, that produce complexity, volatility, uncertainty, ambiguity, abrupt radical changes and upheavals. It is true that good leaders are people-centric and provide ‘clear visions and foresight’ for the led, but success or failure of their decisions will largely depend on the parameters of the prevailing conditions at the time, that are related to the intrinsic and extrinsic issues involved. Unless these are thoroughly understood and catered for, the outcomes of leadership choices could be unexpected, undesirable or substandard.

Further, while leaders should be flexible to adjust to fluctuating environment, they must have courage of conviction, never to abandon anything that’s right, or to compromise on principles, for gaining popularity. Paradoxically, leaders need to be malleable and know that rigid trees can’t sway with heavy winds and break easily; and those attitudes are like the lens in our eyes, that gets stiffer with age- a trend that some of us can relate to. Research by a US psychologist, Paul Babiak has suggested that up to 4% of business leaders in the US could be psychopaths due to their swollen or intense egos, vanity and arrogance. When those who believe that they are the experts and always right – any challenge to their decisions creates a crisis itself, triggering the fight response, that characterizes some leaders. Actually, the humble leaders always get the best out of their organizations’.

Leaders must also strike the right equilibrium between work and rest, for actions to become intrinsically measured, meaningful, fulfilling and healthy. Leadership is less about one strong or charismatic individual, and more about a group of people working collectively to achieve team goals. Leaders that fail to grasp this key point usually don’t get very far on their own, even when they are well-liked and respected. Good leaders are strong and steadfast in their willingness to sacrifice their time and interests to serve the led with devotion, dedication, love and respect and consider these causes, bigger than their own causes. Successful leaders do not waste their time or efforts on aimless or wasteful pursuits and recognize that they can never fathom how it feels from the top of a lofty mountain, unless they have themselves been in the deepest of the valleys.

They honour all good traditions and customs and participate in them, as members of the family, to inculcate a sense of growing unity, comradeship and a wholesome and improved quality of life around them. They achieve mastery of their own trades, before attempting to steer or mentor others by merging their knowledge, character and charisma, for synergy. That leads to matured reasoning, respect for morality in all its forms and an open mind. They are frank in their advice to those above and below them and are aware that greatness does not always come when things are good for us. It usually comes when we take some knocks and are tested. In such events, leaders continue to push their goals forward by fine tuning, expanding, babysitting and nurturing them, for their achievement.

We often think of empathy (sensitivity to the feelings, thoughts and experiences of others) —as a hard-wired trait, but it’s actually more like a skill. The right habits and practices can increase empathic capacity, though some people are naturally empathic. Leadership requires making difficult decisions, taking risks and bearing the brunt of responsibility in these situations, while giving the credit of success to their teams and subordinates. Such propensity is indeed a sterling quality, as is integrity, for making the right decisions and for setting the best example for emulation. While confidence is a critical quality for leadership, exuding over-confidence is a negative feature that needs to be identified, controlled and managed. It’s also crucial that leaders possess generosity and display this particularly in the time spent with people, to create strong bonds with them and ensure loyal and enduring following. Humility (the antonym of arrogance), is a perfect quality for leaders to display. Thus, humble bosses admit that they don’t know everything, so they listen, not only to the experts but also to the ordinary folks and learn from both. They also endorse the proverb: ‘When pride comes, it brings discredit, but with humility comes wisdom and honour’.

Resilient leaders are able to preserve and sustain their energy levels under pressure, to cope with disruptive changes and bounce back from setbacks; by maintaining their emotional balance, controlling dysfunctional behaviour and refusing to blame others. They calmly interpret what’s happening in times of uncertainty, soothe distress, help followers to make sense of a confusing dilemma, reassure their teams about their abilities to endure, give clear orientations about response and sticking together; and through this process, they never substitute rhetoric for actions. That’s how they learn from calamities and translate challenges into opportunities. Looking at the person emerging from this profile, it’s not enough to simply be inspirational; the best leaders know they must mediate, listen and include the opinions of others before making a decision. Execution, team-building and delegation are the keys to success, as is the ability to remain positive in the face of adversity as the power of optimism is rousing in itself. The pinnacle of leadership is the motivation to work honestly, justly and selflessly; to lead from the front, by example, to act as a beacon of unity and to keep obligations to the country first; institutions second; and last to self-interests.

Ideally, leaders are made of attributes outlined in this rendition, though these are not all-encompassing. However, leadership isn’t a destination, it’s a journey — it’s something that has to be worked at regularly, at every level. These aptitudes have to be cultivated too, through coaching, mentoring and improved education of our polity. Prioritization of leader’s development is particularly imperative in Pakistani domestic and geopolitical milieu, that has never been calm and orderly, and where adversity and conflicts have the potential to cause systemic shifts. Most significantly and assuredly, effective management and good governance can be generated by fostering culture, where people elect, select and judge leaders by the standards alluded above.

—The writer is the former President of the NDU.  ([email protected])

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