Leadership in difficult times

News commentator Walter Lippmann defined leaders as “the custodians of a nation's ideals, the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes, of the faith which makes a nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals.” Leaders are expected to be grounded in practical reality yet visionary and to discern wisely in order to lead. People also need their leaders to listen to their needs, to transcend partisanship, prevail over differences, to set aside their personal interests and to work for everyone’s common good. The ability to fulfill these expectations within a praxis is what makes a leader unique or distinguished. Often the dance of good leadership involves an interplay of taking two steps forward, one step back.  

However, the qualitative distinction between good leadership and unhealthy leadership is miniscule than what is actually perceived. Mark Sanborn, an author on leadership, identifies a number of warning signs on why leaders fail. For instance, he says that when leaders shift their focus, they suddenly start thinking small and begin to micro manage, inevitably, getting caught up in details better left to others. Consequently, the leaders can become petty, becoming consumed with the trivial and unimportant, thereby losing sight of what’s important. Sanborn adds, “The laser-like focus that catapulted them to the top disappears, and they become distracted by the trappings of leadership, such as wealth and notoriety.” 

Effective communication is central to dynamic leadership. The ability to communicate the vision and direction to the people and create a shared understanding strengthens a leader. However, when there is lack of focus, ambiguity about the present and future direction, it results in poor communication which often leads to confusion and uncertainty. Unfortunately, leaders tend to perceive this confusion as a lack of understanding or even lack of commitment on the part of the people, rather than taking responsibility for their ineffective communication skills.  

Honest, open and sincere communications are reflective of a leader’s integrity. Sandborn says when integrity ceases to be a leader's top priority, when ethics are compromised and rationalized as necessary for the "greater good," when achieving results becomes more important than the means to their achievement—that is the moment when a leader steps onto the slippery slope of failure. Sandborn adds, “Often such leaders see their followers as pawns, a mere means to an end, thus confusing manipulation with leadership.” 

Leaders must be distinguished by their ability to discern and initiate reflective actions within the context of the common good. However, when leaders are paralyzed by wealth and self-interests, they are unable to take the necessary steps needed for the people’s well-being. Invariably, their focus shifts to self-preservation and maintaining the status quo rather than progressing towards achieving the vision. 

These are testing times and the Naga public is required to discern and question whether the present leaders are the custodians of our ideals, beliefs and hopes. Leaders need to be asked if they are paralyzed with wealth and interests. The people must enquire if their leader’s sole intention and purpose have been reduced to self-preservation. The Naga public needs to know where their leaders are taking them. But most importantly, the people must reflect whether they have been reduced to mere pawns and are being manipulated to serving the self-interests of their leaders.