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Leadership Today

The Failure of Leadership in Modern Society

The myth about leadership

There is a popular myth that we in the West elect our leaders. We don't. We elect our drovers.

When I was in primary school I learned that shepherds in the Holy Land lead their sheep. They walk in front and the sheep follow, willingly. That is the definition of leading. But in the West, the shepherd walks behind, driving the sheep. He is not a leader. He is a drover. And as a drover, he has the tools of the trade: the whip, the goad, the dogs.

The myth of leadership is promulgated ad nauseam by our self styled leaders and bought into, uncritically, by all too many of the populace. That's until things start to go wrong. A true leader could not lead a country to financial ruin for the simple reason that s/he, walking in front, would be first to fall over the precipice. The rest of us would quickly turn back. But what we find, every time, is that the leader's mask slips to reveal the ugly face of the drover. The whip, the goad, the dogs have become the batons, tear gas and water-cannon of the riot police.

Bush and Blair did not lead us into war in Iraq. They goaded us with implied threats of mass extinction, for how else can you describe their lies about weapons of mass destruction? Arch-drovers, the pair of them, as cynical and self-serving as any we've seen. That one of them had the effrontery to pretend to be socialist and by implication interested in the peoples' welfare is merely the icing on the cake. And of course, each enlisted God as his personal adviser.

Hosni Mubarak: Even this week, Egypt is erupting once more into street protests. The Arab Spring revolution had only ended the Mubarak dynasty; it had not dismantled the drovers' machinery of an outwardly benign military in control of a thuggish and brutal police force, their private arm for quelling all civil dissent. The people have had enough of being driven where they do not wish to go.

The sad fact is, we, collectively, have allowed our societies to be dominated by corrupt individuals, governments and corporations who, whether ostensibly elected or merely imposed, are no more leaders than the man in the moon.

They are drovers, every one, and we are the driven, whether we live in the 'free' world, the third world or some tin-pot dictatorship. If in doubt, try to change the prevailing order and see how long before the enforcers turn up, whether bailiff, lawyer, police officer or private thug.

Are there no real leaders?

There are, of course, but for the most part, not where the cameras are pointing. What differentiates our Holy Land shepherd from the drovers is the complete absence of compulsion. A true leader inspires the desire to follow or emulate the example shown. If some even surpass the leader's example, there is no jealousy, for leadership is generous by nature. 'Educare', the Latin word for educate, literally means to lead out. A true leader is one who will lead us out of ignorance, poverty, superstition or bondage. But s/he might not look back to see if we are following, and there are no snarling dogs to herd us if we stray.

Jesus of Nazereth for many is the ultimate leader and if we had only the Sermon on the Mount to gauge him by, a strong case could be made. Unfortunately there are also passages where he betrays extreme intolerance towards those who doubt his message. Of course, this could come down to faulty reporting as there is no suggestion that he ever considered writing his own book. Hearsay is always suspect.

Truly inspirational leaders are rare in the inherently corrupt modern political realm. We could single out Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi*, but after that it starts to get difficult.

Perhaps the true leaders of society, when you cut through the fog of commerce, politics and celebrity, are the philosophers, scientists, poets, artists and visionaries who, through the ages, have advanced human knowledge and accomplishment and given all who follow something to admire, emulate and even surpass.

* Sadly, this short list should now be further shortened.

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