The word “Leadership” has been diluted to the point of being water-logged; so I hesitated to write this article lest anyone compare what is needed now to the scenarios that usually impel the term to be used. Business-speak is the culprit here, the cause of the dilution. We use the term to describe any decision-making that leads to profit or even minor acts of simple management. Well, that’s not what we need now. We need real leadership not the watered down version.

Indeed, leadership comes in many forms- intellectual, emotional, political, economic, social, and philosophical. Few people can meet the bar in any of these categories, fewer still in more than one. In current times, the elected leader of the United States, comes nowhere close to breasting the tape in any category whatsoever. He is not what our country needs.

It is a human tendency for us to look for comparable times and seek out examples of leadership during these times. The easiest- and easily most cited example is the War era and Churchill is put forward as an example of strength, statesmanship and leadership. Such an example is odious for many reasons of which his utter failure as a military leader, this callous indifference to human life, and his unreconstructed racism with its grisly effects in British colonies can be adduced. The other “big leaders” of the allies — FDR and Stalin- are more rarely given kudos for leadership, though in the West, FDR is certainly lauded for this famous speeches, the New Deal, and galvanizing the US and turning it into an absolute economic giant. Stalin’s country, however, did most of the work- in killing and dying- to defeat the Nazis; he galvanized a poor country’s people not only to produce materiel with which to fight the Nazis but to die for Mother Russia in unimaginable numbers. Most people would not evince Stalin as an example of the type of leader we need so we continue with our clichés about Churchill. Time to stop. None of these folks is what we need now.

We need a new imagination, a new language, a new metaphor of leadership. We have to banish our taboos. As we discard our deadening mental traditions, we must discard our axioms. No, the leadership we need is not about business- though it is about innovation- and it is not about war- though it is about an existential battle.

Gandhi and Mandela come to mind. They could galvanize people, inspire them, give them hope, and demand actions, even sacrifices, in what were existential struggles. Copernicus-a polymath and polyglot- come to mind who elevate scientific truth above theological canon. Rosa Luxemburg comes to mind- for her intellectual honesty and rejection of doctrinaire positions. Each of these people had mountainous elements of leadership as against the pebble-sized and false emanations of our own leader in the USA circa 2020. However abstruse these examples maybe to Americans in 2020, the crucial point is that, even with their greatness, each of these people could bring to bear others’ expertise when their own was inadequate to the task.

What we need in a real leader is the vein of humanity, boundless energy, and the ability to assemble, assimilate, delegate, and demur to experts. We do not need a “Drum Major,” we need a Conductor. We need a sacrificial leader, one possessed with an intellect developed enough to know when to act on others’ views and not self-love and bias.

We need an honest leader. Yes, that’s what we need.

Romi Mahajan in an Author, Marketer, Investor, and Activist


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