Hoor Asrar reflects on a crucial issue of Strong leader phenomenon
In governance parlance, a Strong leader phenomenon is widely accepted to be a blessing to have though there are opinions that contend the matter to be a combination of good and bad. This is the reason that the concept is open to more than one interpretation and it is generally taken to mean a leader who concentrates a lot of power in his hands, dominates both a wide swath of public policy and the political party to which he belongs and takes big decisions. Despite the high level of decisive power at his disposal, considering him to be the final authority in a state is an illusion and this fact is equally applicable to democracies, authoritarian regimes or the hybrid regimes which fall in between. It is elaborated that though effective government is necessary but due process of governance is also required to be followed involving all senior political figures and arrive at consensual decision making.
Along with the consensual nature of exercise of powers it is also essential that the governance is undertaken in conformity with the rule of law and the government is somehow accountable for its actions. There is hardly any doubt that strength in a leader ought to be admired but there are many qualities apart from strength considered desirable in a political leader and matter more including integrity, intelligence, articulateness, collegiality, a questioning mind, willingness to seek disparate views and flexibility. What is witnessed currently is a raging debate about portraying a strong leader as a necessity for forceful and effective governance and contrasting him with the one willing to compromise and achieve consensus declaring the latter as weak and unable to deliver appropriate governance. It is now evident that politicians believe that if they can pin the weak label on their principal opponent with a view that it will work to their advantage with voters.
Whatever way strength in a leaders is portrayed it is more important to refrain from placing high level of power in the hands of one person as conceptually it would be unwise as any dispensation with such orientation is rated as lacklustre in which just one individual is best qualified and held entitled to have the last word on everything. Even in case of authoritarian regimes it is generally believed that oligarchic leadership is usually a lesser evil when compared with the dictatorship of one man as is evident by the hold Putin has now over Russia that is based upon the threat of coercion aimed at wiping out any dissent. In countries struggling to effect a transition from highly authoritarian rule either to democracy or to a variety of intermediate hybrid regimes like Pakistan the idea of the strong leader can even prove to be more dangerous than in a fully fledged democracy as has recently happened in the country.
It is however pointed out that there are occasions such as in war and crises when inspirational leadership is needed but is certainly not synonymous with the kind of strength as taken on face value. Actually the inspirational leadership is described as charismatic and charisma is a natural talent though it may not be categorised as inherent strength and cannot be associated with consensual governance. This is precisely the reason that charismatic leaders are open to commit acts that could cause harm as well as good in equal measure. Even the concept of charisma is required to be revisited and such leader is evaluated on rigorous grounds laid for judging others placed in the same area of activity. It is now widely believed that charisma as a practical concept is essentially insecure and it is often dangerous, and frequently overrated. In modern considerations of leadership it is advised to refrain from emphasising that charismatic leadership is an ideal form of leadership and should look for more consensual type of leadership.
While talking about leadership it must be borne in mind that leading effectively implies stretching the limits of the possible in politics and radically altering the political agenda. It can be exercised by the leadership, collectively as well as individually and in the process seek common ground. Leadership is generally perceived to aim at altering people’s thinking on what is feasible and desirable and they redefine political positioning instead of simply accepting the conventional view of the middle ground at any particular time and after achieving this target they should place themselves squarely within it. Such leaders often transform themselves as transformational leaders playing a decisive role in changing the perceptions about political activity. Even in case of transformational leaders the focus should remain is on systemic change that is considered a better way of lasting change.
Despite a gradually altering view about the kind of strength associated with leadership the notion still commonly held in political circles is that there should be one leader who stands head and shoulders above his colleagues and dominates the political process but it is now contested equally widely as such a description of the reality of the leader’s power it is often misleading and as an aspiration it is misguided. It is pointed out in this respect that most major policy decisions taken by the government of any state have little to do with the head of the government and they are taken in consonance with the rule of law particularly according to the devolved principles of governance. Interestingly, in key areas of national policy the so-called strong leaders are always eager to project the image but actually they have far less influence than projected. Despite change in perceptions about the strength of a leader, the push for one leader as ultimate decision-maker is still more prevalent and more frequently pernicious in its consequences in all types of governance but has more to with shifting the blame rather than acquiescing in the strength of a leader.
The change in perception is quite understandable as the checks and balances prevalent in polities are gaining in power particularly with the growth of media that is fast gaining access to many aspects of governance. These developments have been successful in imposing restraints even on leaders of authoritarian regimes who have considerably lost their dictatorial edge and are now compelled to operate within the bounds of collective leadership. It is often observed that the more collective leadership is it is more equipped to lobby far more for the targets it sets to achieve without resorting to coercion that slowly tones down the efficacy of governance. It is acknowledged that free deliberation and argument in a collective leadership ensures that the extremism of policy is avoided and a common ground attained that facilitates the implementation of policy. It is however accepted in the same vein that requirement of a top-leader cannot be completely avoided as it is generally a necessity in a political dispensation. In this context it is recognised that the potential impact of a leader is required to be duly recognised but the best way to make it more functional and productive, his strength is not to be projected but emphasis should be placed on his ability and potential to deliver consensus-driven governance. TW
Hoor Asrar Rauf has remained a national swimming champion and recently Graduated from UCF-USA in Hospitality and Event Management