Leadership, Personality cult and Institutionalisation

imageAdam (as) came down a father and leader and so from the beginning, man has been cast into this mould.

From my years of witnessing, leadership really falls into two broad styles. The first is iconic and driven by the personality of the leader. The second type is one which is built into the fabric of the system, where the personality of the leader is less visible and the institution is important. Its not my wish to judge, as depending on the need, either could be right for that particular moment.

Personality driven situations happen a lot in developing countries. The reason is simple. There are not enough institutions in place and moreover, the mindset is not controlled enough to have it any other way. So the personality of the leader is dominant enough in the minds of the followers, to ensure they follow his/her direction. Emotions have to play a larger role; trust is the basis of the system. At its extreme demagoguery occurs. A crisis normally has to have such a leader. Pakistan/India politics is very much just such a game. Hence families have thrown up leaders (not necessarily competent) where the family profile has given them that thrust. The Gandhis, Bhuttos, Shareefs are very much from this mould. Imran khan, too is a personality cult. Though to be fair, an attempt has been made towards some institutionalisation. But the recent dharnas have stamped his personality very firmly over his party and this country. This also happened in his cricket days in the Pakistan team, where the gulf in personality between him and others, made his dominance inevitable.

Institutional leadership is something you see a lot in structured systems. The leader is an arm of the system. He/she derives their authority and power from it. The followers respect and follow the seat and system, rather than the individual. Change the leader and it should not make a difference. Many corporates have followed this regime and it has worked well for them. Its cold, calculating, systemised and sustainable. And that is why particularly, it is not ‘Us’ in Pakistan. An army is one institution where the rules of succession are such, that there is very little difference between one leader to another. So then institutionalisation of leadership occurs.

Now within these broad guidelines are variations of style. You might get authoritative people, softer people, people who are loved and people who are hated. This does not shift the eventual effectiveness of leadership, as long as control is practised on the direction and goal of the leader, there is sincerity of purpose and there is the backbone for perseverance. If all these happen, success will come eventually.

Within established systems you will get the odd outlier. Jack Welch of GE was one such leader who created a personality cult within the system. Others one can think of in recent years are Iacocca of Chrysler and Goizueta of Coca Cola. Typically, such outliers will rock the system and make things happen in the short term. But since they differ from the system DNA, they cause longer term damage and eventually the system reverts back to its institutionalised DNA.

Can a system migrate from one to another? Above examples are of those where a personalised leadership was foisted onto an institutional based approach. I have never really seen these work. Typically the system reverts to an institution over time or it will crash and disappear. Think of India and Indira Gandhi in the mid 70s. That attempt to create an authoritative leadership failed and India moved back into democracy mode.

The reverse migration of institutionalisation from a cult personality, almost always happens over time. Mao and China is one very obvious example. There are so many others. The Magna Carta is one very poignant example of how the cult of a leader was replaced by the participation of a system.

We in Pakistan are witnessing this very battle in so many places. The Supreme Court, the Army, the democratic institution and also in many local corporates. If we desire sustainability, then eventually we have to learn that dependence on the cult of a leader will always give us variability and uncertainty over the long term, not sustainability.

The picture is from Wylio.com a free picture site

My montage

imageThey say that life flashes by in seconds, when Malik-ul-maut comes calling. Shudder! We will all find out at the end of our time. The mercy of Allah prevail on us all.

In this case, for five decades I have watched this world. My montage flits by too and one sees existence (‘just life’) flash by. Its been like no other half century period in mankind’s written history. We have gone from manual to nano in a few decades. For some seven millennia before that, there was little change, then the wheel accelerated from 1750 plus and now bang, we are in warp speed.

Stepping out on a road in 1964, one sees wheels. Powered by basic engines, and simultaneously by camels, donkeys and horses. The roads are not crowded but there are no metros or flyovers, Simplicity prevails and yet there is some order.

Office technology is non existent. Brain, pen and paper and our own human engine drives work. Work is hard, but we do add columns and compile numbers. And when you go home, the old box like radio plays out music and news. Rarely one sees a flash of television, it is black and white, and what is presented is also simple and real, yet imaginative. Just hear the quality of music. Beatles, Rafi, Mehdi Hasan.

Similarly, step in an office and there are registers, pens, paper, pencils and workers pouring over these. What a strange place, no computers, no mobile phones, or calculators even. Not even a photo copier. But soft, there is the telex machine. It is the basis of our communication and we see telexes being flashed out to various places in the world.

Images of humans. They are not Shias, Sunnis or Punjabis or Muhajirs. Nor Ahmedis or Christians. Actually, the montage does not make clear who they are. Just humans! I can see the Brezhnev Doctrine, Johnson and Mao and Vietnam; USA; Communism, USSR and China. Fear and money. Lots of fear! In the background is de Gaulle and he is railing at the British, keeping them out of the European Common Market. And you also see Nasser from Egypt….smug and not knowing what will happen to him soon. But there is Shah Faisal and the Shah of Iran and they are leaning towards and listening with respect to Ayub, who towers over them. Pakistan stands respected in this comity of nations, the Muslim power of the world and people listen to us. In Washington they only think of the nuclear conflagration. They are not bothered about us at all. We are small fry. The Commies could take over and destroy the world while Muslims are backwards and minuscule.

The montage starts rolling quicker. It cascades by. Early computers, then digitalisation, see Walesa in Poland and then the Berlin Wall falling, Afghanistan, Thatcher, Reagan, Gorbachev, Shah of Iran lonely on Mexican beaches, carrying cancer inside. Sabra and Shatila and Israeli cruelty. Even then, no one cares. Bosnia, as evil and torturing as Gaza today. Oil and wealth. Lots of wealth!

Then 9/11. See the world change…we are now evil and hunted. Maybe dogs are better. Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, CIA, Mossad and cruelty. Lots of cruelty! Lots of treason! Our own rulers, mistreating their own, deserting them. Snakes! Israelis bomb Gaza hospitals, shelters and schools and no one says its wrong.

The world has changed these 50 years. We are advanced. Technology brings comfort. Automation and power. The human race can now rise to a level where it can spend time self actualising. Instead, our societies and families break up, drugs and spirits are overused, malnutrition for over a billion people, bombs galore, resident evil walks in and out of our homes and we do not recognise it. Decency is for imagery on Twitter and FB. Public imagery and media are dinosaurs and reality hides in blankets. We have everything material, but we have no substance. No wonder they talk of greater Israel, the Dajjal and the Mehdi. Lord help us. They know not what an evil period of bloodletting it will be. Wish we would slow down, where slow is preferred, less is preferred and happiness is supreme.

Bob Dylan “the times they are a’changing”

The picture is from dreamstime.com, a free picture site.

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