The truth about leadership

Aug 21, 2013, 07:33 IST | Ranjona Banerji

I'm going with Albert Camus on this one: "One leader, one people, signifies one master and millions of slaves."

I’m going with Albert Camus on this one: “One leader, one people, signifies one master and millions of slaves.”

There is however an innate desire in people to be led. They feel secure and happy knowing that there is someone like Daddy in charge. Or sometimes even Mummy. A benevolent dictatorship is the best form of government? But of course that entity does not and cannot exist. Lord Acton to the rescue with that old chestnut: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Leading the way: ‘A true leader,’ said the Austrian psychoanalyst Carl Jung, ‘is always led’

Those in favour of benevolent dictators often end up with malevolent dictators. For instance, supporters of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, certainly the darkest hour of India’s short tryst with democracy. The fact that trains run on time (often used as an example of the efficiency of the Emergency) is not a justifiable exchange for losing democratic rights. There are several nations which manage to balance democracy and train schedules with no damage to either.

People who espouse the idea of leaders in these times are often corporate or management types. Is it possible that they confuse management jargon about team leaders and selling more chewing gum with politics? Or perhaps not, perhaps it’s often the same desire for leadership which takes you from Daddy to a belief in Divinity. Or even your boss. You can understand the management mind with this 1964 gem, from Clarence B Randall, an American management expert: “The leader must know, must know that he knows, and must be able to make it abundantly clear to those around him that he knows.”

Once you get your brain around that, you know that this cannot work for politics! In politics, it is this phrase which rules and I take it liberally from German filmmaker Roland Emmerich’s 1996 movie, Independence Day: “plausible deniability”. That is, the less a leader knows, the better he can convince his flock (me, 2013).

But it’s not that simple as who knows what because you also have to know this: “It is a characteristic of all movements and crusades that the psychopathic element rises to the top.” That’s American psychoanalyst Robert Lindner. Should diehard followers of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi beware?

How about Idi Amin of Uganda? He knew a thing or two about leadership, dictatorship and dare I say it, psychopathic elements: “In any country there must be people who have to die. They are the sacrifices any nation has to make in order to achieve law and order.” Indeed. Perhaps we have more followers of the Idi Amin School for Dictators than we had supposed, here in India?

Charles De Gaulle has a more practical idea and if you read it carefully maybe it doesn’t mean what you think it means at first glance: “In politics it is necessary either to betray one’s country or the electorate. I prefer to betray the electorate.” You might argue that most politicians do this anyway without recourse to De Gaulle’s wisdom but I would put it to you that they betray the country as well.

But perhaps one can give psychopathic elements the benefit of the doubt? British historian Sir Denis Brogan looks at it this way: “We all invent ourselves as we go along, and a great man’s myths about himself merely tend to stick better than most.” The joys of myth-making in these times of ours are so clearly visible and even more effective if you use an international public relations agency.

However, if in doubt about the wisdom of leaders and their followers, you have to turn to the redoubtable Bertrand Russell: “Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them.”

“A true leader,” said Carl Jung, the famous Austrian psychoanalyst, “is always led.”

Now that is perhaps a relief. Where’s the nearest cliff?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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