Lead or follow? By Andleeb Abbas 1

WHAT is the definition of a leader? Is it somebody who gives a new vision, takes bold initiatives to set a new direction, empowers people below him and becomes a source of motivation and inspiration due to his principled behaviour? Or is it somebody who cannot see beyond his own self-interest, loves to accumulate power, and allows his unprincipled behaviour to make him an object of derision?

Going by theory, the first definition holds true, but seen in the perspective of current practices at home the second seems more accurate. The big question then arises: what if people falling in the second category are reaching the top? Maybe, we need to revisit the whole concept of leadership or see where the correction lies.

We need to examine why despite the many changes in our leaders there is no change in the country. It seems that our so-called leaders, instead of leading from the front, are actually following their predecessors.

To lead is to have a vision of what can be, to see what others cannot see and thus chart a path leading to a clear destination. Has the present, or for that matter, the past leadership ever been successful in doing that? After Jinnah, it has been a hit-and-miss approach where for a short time, due to some external opportunities the country has seen better times, but overall it has been a leadership without vision or direction.

The present set of leaders is evidence of this. Having come in with loud claims of creating unity and security in the country, they seem to have become blind to the direction the country is taking vis-à-vis foreign and local policies. They seem to have no clue as to what to do about the horrible mess the economy is in and the threats to its security and sovereignty. The president goes off to his favourite venues of London and Dubai, while the prime minister appears to be making statements without meaning.

On the foreign policy front, the first statement of the president was that all manner of cooperation would be extended to the Americans against terrorism. Did this give the Americans the licence to kill in our territory? Unfortunately, our politicians’ apathy towards the country they are supposed to lead is quite obvious and no plan is in view for handling the many crises devouring the sanctity of the state.

Is this leading from the front or following the powers who they think will ensure their perpetuity at the expense of the country’s sovereignty?A hallmark of great leaders is their ability to develop a high-performing and capable team which has the energy to face the challenges confronting it with motivation and expertise. All the president’s men are found lacking in these areas. There is a body of opinion that in selecting his team, he has again followed his predecessor by appearing to disregard merit and capability and instead appointing people with whom there are personal connections. The result is that with no issue being dealt with in an intelligent manner, every single day the country is plunging deeper and deeper into an abyss.

The ministers also know their limitations in leading breakthrough initiatives and are simply following the moods and whims of their bosses by agreeing to all and sundry with complete disregard for the consequences of such actions. The tragic situation in Bajaur and the country’s unmet energy needs, growing by the day one might add, point to the utter lack of initiative in the respective departments. The most innovative idea of saving energy so far has been to push the clock forward by one hour with plans to give two days off in a week — hardly genius suggestions for increasing productivity.

Great leaders always lead by example and set such high standards of behaviour that they inspire others to follow them. They earn the trust of the people by being men of principles and they practice what they preach and mean what they say. There is no rhetoric, and action is in evidence. Unfortunately, our president has earned the reputation of not living up to his promises as is amply clear in the unimplemented charters and memorandums signed with coalition partners. These examples will only serve to decrease the credibility of our leadership.

Leadership is not a title, a rank, a position; it is a kind of behaviour which does not derive from the exercise of legal or illegal power but is earned by being of strong exemplary character and inspiring personality; by having the integrity to admit one’s mistakes and standing by one’s commitments. It is these qualities that qualify one to lead, otherwise one is simply following what so many others have done.

For their own interest in retaining power, our leaders need to be reminded that if they do not change, they will be changed, as were people before them. In order to keep their positions, instead of following their predecessors by giving in to foreign pressure, they need to focus on leading with courage, commitment and conviction, the qualities that can prevent them from being subjected to the humiliating fate of all leaders who failed to live by these principles. So our present set of leaders should be different for their own sake, if not for the sake of the country.

The writer is a consultant and CEO of FranklinCovey.


Source: Daily dawn, 19/9/2008

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