Have our leaders lost the essence of leadership?

by April 17, 2019 0 comments


Numerous global and national leaders today appear to be victims of self-pride and gratification, when they are expected to be humble and modest personalities

Many knowledge organisations and institutions in this country prefer to work entirely on their own and seldom join hands across problem areas or sectors, which might provide far more integrated assessments and solutions for the growing challenges we face. While the interlinked nature of human activities — and their globalisation — is becoming increasingly more complex, it appears that efforts to work along narrow subjects and along established silos seem more deeply entrenched on the Indian scene. This is a major deviation from collaborative trends in several parts of the world, particularly in the developed countries, even though there are disturbing trends to the contrary in those nations as well.

A significant example of partnerships and outcomes thus produced lies in an interesting series of publication entitled, The Conversation. The subtitle for this series describes it as “Academic rigour, journalistic flair.” Indeed, while the analysis presented reflects substantial academic rigour, the style in which it is written is purely that of a conversation, which makes it possible for journalists and the average public to grasp the depth of what is conveyed. When Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India, this writer sent him a detailed note on the need to bring together a group of knowledge organisations, which were working on strategic issues. Rajiv Gandhi’s response was swift and positive and the Cabinet Secretary was instructed to convene a meeting of half a dozen knowledge organisations, including The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and others. The Government agreed in principle to provide regular support for cooperative and interactive work between these organisations. Unfortunately, like several other initiatives, this one also suffered from the plunging decline in political standing of the Government and its inability to undertake fresh initiatives.

The Conversation has a number of sponsors and partners, including the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia, the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University and several others. The CSIRO was patterned along the lines of India’s own Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), but it has gone far beyond the capabilities of the latter with a strong market orientation and ability to generate financial resources and fostering innovation in various fields.

In general, if we were to analyse the lack of effort on the part of leaders in India to reach out and collaborate on issues of contemporary importance, we may be able to identify a certain level of hubris and extreme ego on the part of those responsible for such organisations.

Interestingly, a recent issue of The Conversation discussed hubris and described it as: “Hubris is a dangerous cocktail of over-confidence, over-ambition, arrogance and pride fuelled by power and success. When found alongside contempt for the advice and criticism of others, it causes leaders to significantly overreach themselves, taking risky and reckless decisions with harmful, sometimes catastrophic consequences for themselves, their organisations, institutions and even for society.”

The view seems to be that a number of leaders, both at the global and the national levels, today appear to be victims of hubris. An example can be provided of former US President George W Bush, who overreached himself in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Similarly, the former and final CEO of Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld, who, in his overreach, was responsible for the financial crisis bringing down the Lehman Brothers with him.  Former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on EU membership such that he may be able to stop his party’s Eurosceptics on that issue is another example of hubris. Supposedly, Cameron made a decision against the advice of more reasonable colleagues such as George Osborne.

Another issue of The Conversation discussed the area of bipartisanship wherein even a proud Democrat like Lyndon Johnson worked closely with General Eisenhower when the latter was President of the US. Similarly, Democrats also worked with President Ronald Reagan in a similar spirit, which showed the absence of hubris so prevalent among leaders of today. A leader who is down to earth is supposed to identify himself with the interests of the people he leads. Eisenhower even went to the extent of defying the demands of his own party. It is reported that he refused to cut taxes on those upper income groups that had traditionally supported and heavily influenced his own party. Instead, he worked to cut spending and balance the budget — a goal he achieved three times during his two terms. He supported additions to social security and went to the extent of a federally funded national highway system, which was supported by the Democrats as part of a publicly-funded infrastructure programme.

The question is whether these leaders are seen by their followers as larger than life and measuring up to the dimensions of a superman, to be idealised and admired by them. It is hoped that distinguished leaders in the future would show a certain level of humility and shed the hubris that they appear to have acquired in recent years.

It is relevant to recall that the brightest scientist in history Albert Einstein is reported to have said. “I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

Could it, therefore, be that those leaders with hubris lack an intellectual understanding of their own being and most certainly that of nature, which takes the form of remoteness from reality and basic humility? We urgently need leaders in this mould before those with hubris can impose untold harm on society and distort the finest attributes of human nature. But in recent times, leaders with hubris have strutted the stage in the US, the UK, the Philippines, Indonesia and many other countries. Will they be succeeded by more humble and modest personalities?

(The writer is former chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2002-15)

Writer: RK Pachauri

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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