Friday, 7 June 2013

Can we have an end to the cult of leadership?

But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry [ground] through the midst of the sea. Exodus 14:16

Since time immemorial we have been cursed by leadership. Moses, Mohammed, Mao - an endless succession of leaders taking us from our wretched existence to some glorious city on the hill. We are obsessed by the idea of charisma, of how leaders transcend the ordinary to set out a vision of some wonderful future.

Now we have the idea of the leader an an institution - that we should be concerned about the charisma of that individual and his ability to drag us from our plight by the force of his personality, dividing the seas of crisis by the merest waft of that staff of power:

For the first time, David Cameron is trailing behind his party, according to the latest polling from Lord Ashcroft. Labour has long struggled with this problem, but as the charts below show, voters now also feel more favourable towards the Conservatives than they do to Cameron himself...

We're told to worry, that without a leader who can 'rise above' partisan and tribal politics there is no hope of sustained power. And so start the whispers - replace Dave with Boris or Ed with a different Ed, dump Nick. We're told by the gossip-mongers of the media that leadership is all, that the charming smile of the true leader is the difference between success and failure.

This nonsense is indulged by the pollsters who ask questions that we would never ask each other, carefully crafted questions that reinforce the idea of 'leadership', the belief - a mistaken belief - that without leadership nothing ever happens. All this does is reinforce the idea that orders, direction and control are the way to run the world and that everywhere people should know the answer to the little green aliens request: "take me to your leader".

Well I disagree, all leadership does is create conflict, division and the subordination of one person to the desires and demands of another. Leadership is about you doing something because someone else demands it of you. And it matters not one jot whether that demand is wrapped up in persuasive weasel words or done with a whip or a Kalashnikov - the end result is the same, we do what we're told (and too often believe it is good for us).

Worse still than 'leader as institution' we now have 'leadership as bureacracy' - great monuments to the power of red tape now have active leadership programmes where the administrative lemures are taught about the leadership thing. And, rather that understand that their role is to process, to administer, these "future leaders" sign up to the cult of leadership - that bureaucracy will be better for the presence of people who have a vision of that city of the hill, that magic place where everything is good and bright and wonderful.

It is the most depressing idea I know, the negation of choice and individuality, of challenge and innovation. And its replacement with 'leadership'.

‘His Excellency the Earth Ambassador wishes to speak with you at once.’

‘Is that so?’ The other eyed him speculatively, had another pick at his teeth. ‘And what makes him excellent?’

‘He is a person of considerable importance,’ said Bidworthy, unable to decide whether the other was trying to be funny at this expense or alternatively was what is known as a character. A lot of these long-isolated pioneering types liked to think of themselves as characters.

‘Of considerable importance,’ echoed the farmer, narrowing his eyes at the horizon. He appeared to be trying to grasp a completely alien concept. After a while, he inquired, ‘What will happen to your home world when this person dies?’

‘Nothing,’ Bidworthy admitted.

‘It will roll on as before?’


‘Round and round the sun?’

‘Of course.’

‘Then,’ declared the farmer flatly, ‘if his existence or nonexistence makes no difference he cannot be important.’ with that, his little engine went chuff-chuff and the cultivator rolled forward.
Now that is the right response to 'leadership'!


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