Steve Jobs was a leader – but where are the political leaders today?

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...

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Steve Jobs passed away yesterday. His passing got me thinking about leadership. The definition of a “leader” that I like best is

“one who visualises and then moves his “people” (or group or company or “tribe”) from a given “state of existence” (set of conditions or location or both) towards or to another desired state”

Steve Jobs was a leader who had a vision of the world and moved very many towards that destination – and not just at Apple.

With this definition it is incumbent on a leader to first have the vision to be able to visualise and communicate the “desired” state and then to carry his “people” with him towards that state. Kicking and screaming if necessary. A leader is not one who is merely an effective administrator who follows rules and hopes for a beneficial result. A leader is not one who – in the name of democracy or consensus – blends and averages out the opinions of many to produce a grey, amorphous blob of a destination. He is not one who becomes merely a “keeper of a process” where the process reigns supreme and the direction of movement and the change of state achieved is subordinated to maintaining the process.

Political democracies around the world today are suffering from a dearth of leadership. Maintaining the “democratic process” has become more important than defining the direction of where we are going and ensuring movement in that direction. Right now every single democratic leader has degenerated into a professional pessimist. The 2008 financial crisis probably prevents any “leader” today from daring to be optimistic and confident enough to look to the future. The current financial crisis being played out in Europe is no doubt due to the irresponsible and profligate behaviour of Greece and Italy and Spain and Portugal. But deeper than that is the lack of any leadership not only in these countries but also in the rest of Europe. Throughout the democratic world today it is fears which subordinate actions and the definition of courage is “when fear is subordinated to purposeful actions”. The people in positions of leadership lack courage.

In modern party political democracies, it is party politics which govern and every party is concerned primarily with getting to governmental power or staying there. Minor and fringe political parties (often fanatical and extreme) are allowed to hold the balance of power just so that some other larger party can form or remain in government. When these minor parties exercise greater influence than they should, the entire concept of democracy is compromised and corrupted (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Austria). Even in effectively two party states like the US and the UK and Australia and France and India, the lack of a clear mandate leads to political deadlock on the one hand, or having a clear mandate on the other leads to an oppression by the majority. (The Liberal Democrats in the UK merely bend with the wind to stay in government and do not count). Proportional representation in many European countries leads to hodge-podge, coalition governments with no clear direction and no clear mandate (Germany and Italy for example). In Belgium there is no government at all and actions have been abdicated to the bureaucrats and the administrators.

In political democracies there are no leaders visible today. Only followers.

Obama, Merkel, Cameron, Sarkozy, Gillard, Noda and Manmohan Singh all behave essentially like sheep or like “keepers of a process” and I see no signs of any real leadership. Staying in government is the name of the game and there is no hint of a vision of a desired state of conditions – let alone any movement towards such a desired state of conditions.

It is high time for some vision and some optimism and some daring in the political arena.

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