When Did Leadership Turn into a Bollywood Production?

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It’s funny how the society’s mood changes and how in an age of ‘digital-first’, emotions take over everything including rationality, judgement, impartiality and pragmatism.

Until not very long ago, a “leader” was someone who exuded authority, determination, immovability in front of all dangers and perils, a modern-day mix between Robin Hood and William Wallace. But that is no longer the case unless you’re also nasty, disrespectful and outright obnoxious.

If you are in charge of a large organisation, political party, international business or government, doing your job and showing responsibility and trustworthiness while mapping out an entire process for how things will be and what you will do about it, no longer cuts it.

Today you must show emotion, fragility and plenty of whining in between to actually demonstrate you are “human” and “one of us”.

The “whining” leader poses some very interesting paradoxes: on the one hand, the society is having a wonderful time in its bottled up behavioural restraint and finds validation in “leaders cry, too” only to, five minutes later, start doubting whether a whining leader is preferred to a sturdy, stoned-face conventional leader, one who shows determination and drive, no matter the obstacles.

And herein lies the conundrum – if a woman displays characteristics which were largely ascribed to men in the past (not so much so today), she is often catalogued as cold hearted, lacking emotion and so on.

If a man does it, no matter how much they offend either a country, a certain segment of the electorate or colleagues, they are cool and as “they should be”.

Failure and mistakes have little to do with displaying emotion.

There are some chameleonic leaders who would get an Oscar for their performance. There are others for whom showing their inner most self is very difficult, something which they would consider too personal or too costly to do.

Do we judge someone on their whining and “cry me a river” ability or do we judge them on their ability to lead through turbulent, choppy and very uncertain times and waters?

Admitting failure, frailty and mistakes doesn’t come very easy. It takes a “big” man or woman to admit, especially publicly and in front of the entire world, that they have been wrong.

When you are responsible for the welfare of a country or for tens of thousands of employees, if you are a President / Prime Minister or the CEO of a multinational organisation, whining and showing how broken you may be brings more risks than benefits.

If you are at war with your neighbouring countries, or if you are negotiating a massive trade deal, or if you are faced with party or general elections, admitting failure or flooding the world with your tears may translate in war, loss of negotiating power or loss of votes.

Since most multinational corporations are listed on stock exchanges, their CEOs coming out and having a five-minutes “cry me a river” interview on a national television station will highly likely translate into a collapse of that organisation’s share price which, in turn, will translate into bankruptcy – thus leaving tens of thousands of people unemployed and causing significant social welfare issues.

“Coffee morning” storytelling of failure, mistakes, inappropriate actions or behaviours have a very well-defined time and place. They need to be directed better than any Bollywood movie or even the Oscar winning production of the “Titanic”.

The fact that we, humans, react much stronger to negative and “dirty” news than we do to anything positive and uplifting has been empirically proven time and time again – this is a fact of psychological science because this is how our brains are wired and our subconscious mind and negativity bias work.

By all means we should encourage any leader – political or business – to share their stories of failure with the world IF, and only IF, these have led to something better, stronger and made them a better person; the key word here is “learning”.

Most of us learn from our experiences, and some of us find inspiration in the adversity and failure faced and overcome by others.

Ask yourself this question: would you trust a politician in office who is admitting the lack of knowledge or ability to do their job? Would you buy shares in a company whose CEO just come out publicly saying “I’m a failure” or “I have no idea what I’m doing”?   

Would you trade their competence to lead for their ability and readiness to whine?

Photo by Aliyah Jamous on Unsplash

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