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November 05, 2019 Tuesday 02:26:43 PM IST

Come on, Play The Lead Role

Despite the presence of a number of leaders in business, political and religious spheres, there exists a leadership vacuum in social and environmental fronts.

Much has been discussed about a crisis of leadership in modern society. The question is, does a crisis of leadership exist in this digitally empoweredage ?  The answer is a dichotomy of yes and no. We have many exceptional, visionary leaders in the world of business like Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Masayoshi Son, Warren Buffet, to name just a few who have added billions in value to their own companies and shareholders and themselves in the process. Then, we have influential and powerful political and religious leaders of all hues. Hence, we may surmise that there is no leadership vacuum. However,there are not many notably strong leaders when it comes to social and environmental issues like disease eradication, poverty amelioration, societal conflict redress, pollution prevention, pivotal climate change advocacy, etc.

As inequality spreads, the rising tide seems to be only lifting the yachts of the elite, while swamping the commoner boats. Leadership per se is getting highly reactionary and fragmented. Leaders such as Donald Trump of the USA, Matteo Salvini of Italy, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Bashar Al Assad of Syria, Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines, and Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia cater to their supporters and mesmerise them into being blind followers, willing to do anything and everything. The common thread running through all of them is that they cater to the tunnel-minded needs of the followers which gave birth to their situational leadership. They do not see, or do not want to see the overall holistic perspective of a globally harmonious life of equilibrium and freedom from want of basic necessities in a clean and wholesome environment, which is,and has been the basic right of all human beings.They realise that ‘there is enough in this world for everyone’s needs’, but their limitless self-interests come first, letting others keep the balance if any. That was sarcastically rephrased by the legendary rock band Pink Floyd when they sang, ‘ Share it fairly, but don’t take a slice of my pie’. Mind you, the substantial slice may even be parked in an offshore tax haven as it could possibly be ill-gotten and unable to be utilised in any meaningful way for humanity.


Gravity of climate change

We are staring at the major issue of cataclysmic climate change, but there is no talk of any‘climate emergency’, apart from the uproar raised by a Greta Thunberg and the few thousands she has galvanised. How many youth are being focused on this grave issue by our elected leaders and elderthinkers ?  Discounting lip service to the issue, almost none, is the sad fact.It is high time we as elders highlighted the seriousness of the issue to the next generation, considering that this year in 2019, for the first time since the United Nations started publishing its Global Risk Report in 2005, four out of the top five risks measured by ‘impact’ are related to the effects of climate change and nine out of the top ten risks are related to water. Only weapons of mass destruction and cyberattacks come anywhere close in urgency. Those two issues can be more or less sorted out objectively by man, but global warming is more intrinsically entwined with the environment and everybody has an everyday stake in it, and hence change is extremely difficult.

The most urgent question we should be asking ourselves is how do we get the young to huddle down and focus their limitless energies on taking leadership in finding practical solutions to the existential crisis they are inexorably headinginto ?We should even ponder about starting an Indian Environmental Service cadre at the governmental level to attract the zealous ones to contribute their might. Every week in all schools from the fifth grade onwards, there should be brain storming sessions on Climate Change Mitigation, conducted by committed NGOs, which are many, in our nation. They can spearhead compulsory, academically credited, cleanliness drives at beaches, rivers, farmlands and public places. Credits would ensure mass participation and parental acceptance. This could be the crucible for charismatic nature warrior leaders, to emerge and flower. That is half the work done.


Begins at home

In the final sense, leadership starts at home. Parents and other elders in the family are leaders in their own right. The power of example is the best means of emphasizing leadership in every way. Cleanliness is next to godliness is what is drilled into usas children. That extends to not throwing waste in the open, not cutting lanes in traffic, not honking unnecessarily, giving up a seat in the bus to an elder, saying thank you, helping the elderly and orphans on errands and many more such simple tasks. This would lead to a more peaceful society in the long run, one where people will listen to others. Listening skills is of utmost importance for leaders and those are the ones who stand out from the crowd as they are far and few in between. Such leaders, apart from reducing strife, are ‘simplificators’.  The one who can see through the increasing complexity of today’s ever intertwined world and come out with simple solutions to complex problems are worth their weight in gold. In the corporate world, we have had a few brilliant leaderssuch as Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.Due to the very fact that they were clear on their objectives, they were able to have a smooth succession plan for their organisations. On the spiritual side also, we have had many exemplary, simple leaders in our nation such as Buddha, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharishi, Aurobindo, Vivekananda, Jiddu Krishnamurthy and Mother Teresa. Their messages live on, albeit ever faintly in today’s hyper materialistic world. All the more reason to study, contemplate on, and emulate their way of life. The awareness on the worth of service as a leader will ease the headlong surge into everything worldly, which is what leads to competition for resources which are getting more scarce, with the powerful cornering most of it to the envy and discomfort of others.

Every current situation throws up leaders to take up the gauntlet of the moment, but there is no holistic world view among the opportunistic, egotistic leaders. Unless we lead the youth through a collaborative, experiential learning process, we are unlikely to be successful in grooming true proactive leaders. For that we ourselves have to change. We have to stop and reflect on the frenetic pace we are constantly putting ourselves through. The question is, can we see through the chaff and change to a more simple, humble way of life ? One where we respect all living things and leave no footprints of destruction and chaos of war and strife. Can we think of beating the proverbial swords of control into productive ploughshares ?If we cannot genuflect and lead ourselves accordingly, the whole planet will be in trouble, sooner than later. Can we fundamentally change our dealings with nature, before nature pulls the plug ?

Thomas George

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