History has witnessed so many facets of leadership that it sometimes baffles human imagination. We have our Gandhis, Mandelas, Maos, Churchills and Roosevelts, and then we have Mussolinis, Hitlers and Genghis Khans too.
What then is leadership all about? Is it inspiring and leading peacefully or is it wreaking havoc and leaving behind carcasses of the innocent? Since history is all about objectivity, it leaves the verdict to our ‘collective conscience’ and ‘analytical prowess.’ Humanity has been blessed with leaders who brought with them the Divine Message for our salvation and eternal bliss. We know them as Prophets. They preached oneness of Almighty God, explained the infinite attributes of the Divine Self and inspired human beings to delve deep into the mysteries of their creation, thus they gave meaning to our ephemeral existence.
Philosophers, sages, scientists and reformers, throughout human history, also have brooded, reflected, explored and promulgated the wisdom behind these eternal principles, and seldom has been the outcome short of hope and promise.
Leadership is all about noble and pristine intentions. Ends justify means, at times. But then how do we account for those savages masquerading as lions in wolves’ attire. One finds some plausible answers in world literature.
T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ mourns the soulless modern times. Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’ indicts post-World War frigidity. One feels that history leads humanity to a higher consciousness, an elevated state of being capable of harnessing the true potential of ‘nature’ and ‘self’. That seems to be the ultimate design of the creation. All warrior kings, ruthless dictators and demagogues in democratic garb, are ‘antithetical paradigms’ in this grand creative design. But they are all leading us to a synthesis; the very thesis of making the best of ourselves and the world around us. So, everyone who left his imprints on history, whether tainted or soiled, or celestial and divine, has contributed to the march of human thought process. Our present is but building upon our past experiences, and furnishing in us a resolve to build a vibrant tomorrow.
Today, ‘ground realities’ around us defy this logic. With all this hatred, economic exploitation, neocolonialism and resource wars, the world seems to be heading towards a disaster — a failure of the ‘grand cosmic design’. Is there any ray of hope then? ‘Back to Basics’ is the only panacea!
Literature is a reflection of reality. We live as men in the world, and are scattered as characters in literature. Whether it is Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, King Lear, Macbeth or Hamlet; all these are prototypes of worldly kings, princes, statesmen, dictators and leaders. That brings us yet again to the same puzzling query!
Sir Winston Spencer Churchill once remarked that it was not him but the people of Britain who won the Second World War. That he was someone destined to ‘roar’ on their behalf. So humble, and yet so right. This was Churchill — a true visionary and a leader par excellence. Take the example of Roosevelt — a half crippled man — steering United States of America through economic depression and the Second World War, with triumph. About the same time Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid of South Asian Muslims, was waging a legal and constitutional battle for an independent nationhood for his coreligionists. Little is known of him in the West. Professor Stanley Wolpert remarks in his book ‘Jinnah of Pakistan’:
‘Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammed Ali Jinnah did all three.’
True leadership is nothing but leading by example, in thought, vision, and action. The private and public character of an individual determines sustained following. The ‘founding fathers’ of the United States drafted a written Constitution that proclaimed in its preamble:
‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’
The vision behind these noble sentiments still serves as a clarion call for a free world. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and others poured their heart, soul and intellect to shape a blessed future for their nation. Abraham Lincoln stood firm for these principles when America faced its gravest domestic challenge in the civil war between the industrial bourgeoisie of the north and agriculture-based landed aristocracy of the south. Martin Luther King Jr. protested for the same rights in the latter half of the twentieth century. The true realization of the vision may still be distant but all these leaders put in all-out efforts to make it happen in their times.
Leadership is thus the art of weighing options and possibilities and forging ahead with ‘rugged determination’ and ‘unflinching optimism.’ Leadership is serving people, not ruling them. It is about inspiring masses towards higher ideals. ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’, the slogan of the French Revolution, got muddled in the hands of bigots and orators. Chairman Mao of China was once asked about the effects of ‘French Revolution’. He replied that it was ‘too early to say something’. This may sound intriguing; however, it reflects the sagacity of the ‘old comrade’. Perhaps he wanted to say that revolutions are not merely meant to attain aims, they provide stimulus to chart our way through stormy seas. Peace, prosperity and social welfare are noble ends. Society strives to attain these. Yet, till human race survives, this ongoing quest for a ‘better world’ would continue.
Humanity might never fully realize these ends; nevertheless these are worth striving for. Visionary leadership makes its adherents follow these stepping stones and bequeath the succeeding generations a world that is a more comfortable place to live in. If a leader fails to stamp significant imprints on the sands of time, he may be lacking somewhere. If his followers do not adhere to his policies and philosophy, there may be some loose ends. Who is to blame? An absolute answer is hard to find.
Life is a continuum. It flows incessantly. Men come and go. The only lasting virtue is memory of those who acted beyond narrow, parochial concerns. They are our shared legacy. We are not garbage, waiting to be recycled by nature into some useful form of fuel, again to be consumed, yet again to be recycled. We are the choicest of the creation. We are meant to lead. We are designed and programmed to excel. Divine creation is waiting for our response, a human and humane response that takes us forward. We are in this journey together—all of us. And we can come out of the dark, murky woods together. All we desire is peace, within and without.
Rudyard Kipling offers a panacea for our parched souls:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
Let us resolve to fill those ‘sixty seconds’ of life with ‘life’ itself.