Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Four leaders who have made a strong impact in their nations in these times are Russian President Vladimir Putin and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern from the Western world (apart from US President Trump of course) and Indian PM Narendra Modi and Bangladesh PM Sheikh Haseena from South Asia. They present four contrasting styles of leadership in liberal democratic setups that define the challenges of our times in varied poignancy.
There are various types of leaderships and in real life, in a leader, several of these blends seamlessly together.
Autocratic leadership style is centered on the boss. In this leadership the leader holds all authority and responsibility. In this leadership, leaders make decisions on their own without consulting subordinates. They reach decisions, communicate them to subordinates and expect prompt implementation. Autocratic work environment does normally have little or no flexibility. In democratic leadership style, subordinates are involved in making decisions. Unlike autocratic, this headship is centered on subordinates’ contributions. The democratic leader holds final responsibility, but he or she is known to delegate authority to other people, who determine work projects. Strategic leadership is one that involves a leader who is essentially the head of an organization. The strategic leader is not limited to those at the top of the organization. It is geared to a wider audience at all levels who want to create a high performance life, team or organization. Unlike other leadership styles, transformational leadership is all about initiating change in organizations, groups, oneself and others. Transformational leaders motivate others to do more than they originally intended and often even more than they thought possible. They set more challenging expectations and typically achieve higher performance. Team leadership involves the creation of a vivid picture of its future, where it is heading and what it will stand for. The vision inspires and provides a strong sense of purpose and direction. Cross-cultural leadership normally exists where there are various cultures in the society. This leadership has also industrialized as a way to recognize front runners who work in the contemporary globalized market. Facilitative leadership is too dependent on measurements and outcomes – not a skill, although it takes much skill to master. The effectiveness of a group is directly related to the efficacy of its process. If the group is high functioning, the facilitative leader uses a light hand on the process. Laissez-faire leadership gives authority to employees. According to this, departments or subordinates are allowed to work as they choose with minimal or no interference. According to research, this kind of leadership has been consistently found to be the least satisfying and least effective management style. Transactional leadership is that maintains or continues the status quo. It is also the leadership that involves an exchange process, whereby followers get immediate, tangible rewards for carrying out the leader’s orders. Transactional leadership can sound rather basic, with its focus on exchange. Coaching leadership involves teaching and supervising followers. A coaching leader is highly operational in setting where results/ performance require improvement. In charismatic leadership, the charismatic leader manifests his or her revolutionary power. Charisma does not mean sheer behavioral change. It actually involves a transformation of followers’ values and beliefs. Therefore, this distinguishes a charismatic leader from a simply populist leader who may affect attitudes towards specific objects, but who is not prepared as the charismatic leader is, to transform the underlying normative orientation that structures specific attitudes. And visionary leadership involves leaders who recognize that the methods, steps and processes of leadership are all obtained with and through people. Most great and successful leaders have the aspects of vision in them.
Most of the above are true in business and social leadership, and can also be applied in the context of political leadership to a large extent.
Political Leadership Approaches:
In contrast, leadership scholar Andrew Gill comes out with five interesting political leadership styles. MOU—it’s really about me not you. MOUs see themselves running for office as a favour to you or they are running for office believing they have the answers to the problems facing the country. As leaders, their approach is dominated by confidence bordering on arrogance. Their ideas often lack details or contain panacea-like solutions, but their sound bites are appealing. Political slogan: You Are Welcome, America! Next, TOU—I think, therefore I am the best for you. TOUs focus on thought and rationale. They want to find the right way to do things. They revere the facts and seek information to make informed and balanced decisions. As leaders, they are always open to others’ points of view but want their perspective on issues heard. As such, they surround themselves with smart people and make sure they have an informed point of view on just about everything. Political slogan: It’s Only Logical, America—Vote for Me. Third, SOU—I want to save you…from you or whatever is potentially unfair or, in their mind, threatening your future. SOUs want government to provide a safety net, solutions and money that saves you from whatever it is you need saving from, even if you don’t want to be saved, such as global warming, the wealthy, or American Imperialism, etc. As leaders they are caring and compassionate—always talking about the needs of people, the planet and the future. Political slogan: You Are Worth Saving, America. Fourth, COU—I want to Control you. In reality the SOU and COU are two sides of the same coin but look, sound and feel different. COUs possess strong moral beliefs. They believe in government controlling everything that is defined by them to be immoral and wrong (often through legislation—way to go, separation of church and state). As leaders, COUs are passionate, determined and confident—although not always that smart. Political slogan: Let’s Be Great Again, America! (By taking away your diversity, fairness, alternative beliefs, and freedom of choice). Finally, ROU—I am a Reflection of you. What is appealing about ROUs is that there is always some part of their message we can all relate to, and their interpersonal and initial impact skills enable them to talk directly to you, whether in small groups or on the broader political stage. As leaders, their ability to make effective decisions and take action is dictated by the strength of those closest to them—the ones they reflect the most. Political slogan: I Am You, America.
With this prognosis of leadership styles, let us look at the four leaders noted at the outset.
Vladimir Putin as a Leader:
Vladimir Putin is a Russian politician and former KGB intelligence officer currently serving as President of Russia today for nearly two decades. Elected to his current and fourth presidential term in March 2018, Putin has led the Russian Federation as either its prime minister, acting president, or president since 1999. Long considered an equal of the President of the United States in holding one of the world’s most powerful public offices, Putin has aggressively exerted Russia’s influence and political policy around the world. Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny that Putin has made a huge impact on his country and the world. He has moved across diverse stands: in Ukraine, Georgia and ‘near abroad’, through his later opposition to NATO, with his alleged autocracy creating a cult of personality with crackdowns on opposition, and with dependency on propaganda and military, harbouring new found sporting prestige, but also making Russia a significant force in a multi-polar world and becoming a pivot of Asia in spite of being an European nation. And, to achieve his goals, Putin has coaxed or bought over free media, brought in stringent sedition and defamation laws, created a loyal oil oligarchy, tightened control over espionage and military forces, eulogized Russian past and religious moralist values, crushed all forms of dissent, et al. Experts do not generally consider Russia to be a democracy, citing the lack of free and fair elections, purges and jailing of opponents, and curtailed press freedom. Human rights organizations and activists have accused Putin of persecuting political critics and activists, as well as ordering them tortured or assassinated, though he has rejected accusations of human rights abuses. A brand of autocratic, transactional and closed leadership he has exhibited with a clear message: I want to control you (COU style).
Narendra Modi as a Leader:
No leader in India has made so much of an impact in the last half century as Narendra Modi. Enigmatic, using the fabled humble tea-selling background, moving from Gujarati asmita (Gujarati pride) as Gujarat Chief Minister to a New India of majoritarian Hindu nationalism, technocratic economy and aggressive militarism, Narendra Modi has made a unique blend of transformational leadership (call for swachhata and digital India etc) with the transactional (alliance with PDP made and broken, alliance within NDA, Citizenship Bill brought in and temporarily withdrawn, etc). He has called out to note that he is the best for India and he is here to save the nation from corruption and casteism, and in effect has led to a situation where he wants to control (including institutions like RBI, CBI, Election Commission, IB, ED etc). He has attempted to blend the role of a coach and a charismatic leader too putting himself away from media scrutiny, but visible 24X7 across all paid and influenced media, so much so that some have started complaining about voter fatigue with his over-bearing constant image-building. His leadership is loud in sound (as are his trips across the globe), but low in outcome (hardly any investments except from Japan). Moral high (worshipping on camera, bill against triple talaq in Muslim community, stand against judiciary on the issue of menstruating age women’s entry into Sabarimala temple) with social low (often silent on lynching and cow vigilantism, no action against party-men accused of crimes against women, etc) marks a Modified approach, which otherwise talks of past glory to justify current majoritarian action on ground.
Sheikh Haseena as a Leader:
Haseena has evolved into another coach-cum-charismatic transformational leader with focus more on uplifting the poorer sections and controlling the rabid right wing forces like Jamaat, but disallowing free press beyond a point, and choking the opposition through a heady mix of police action, managed media slander, armed party goons instilling fear to any challenger, and managed democratic institutions like election and anti corruption bodies. She is at best a benevolent dictator who has all the charms of a democrat and steely attitude of no-holds-barred governance so much so that she has not allowed even a second line within her own party to evolve much. On the brighter side, Bangladesh does better on human development indices than India, right wing fanaticism of militant Islam has been controlled, and poverty and illiteracy have been tackled to an admirable extent. With her allies, she is transactional, and so is with the big bourgeoisie. She stands SOU and COU styles, wanting to save and control Bangladesh simultaneously.
Jacinda Ardern is a complete contrast to the three above. Young, dynamic, enterprising and intelligent – Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and an emerging global leader, indeed has everything going for her. In the wake of the notorious Christchurch shootings, the former researcher has proven that she is a true contemporary leader, a leader that citizens can bank on. Right from the time leadership was thrust upon her in a unique context, she has been a whip of fresh air. Here stood a woman, who seemed to embody New Zealand’s best attributes of optimism, common sense, approachability and, most of all, empathy. In her debut speech to the United Nations Assembly in New York, people were struck by her artful turn of phrase and her ability to put into words what people felt but could not articulate. Take for instance her reflection that, “#MeToo must become #WeToo”. Post the Christchurch Mosque terror attack killing more than 50, worst ever in New Zealand, and her passionate and humane response thereafter, Jacinda transformed from being an admired Prime Minister to a world leader, who represents humankind in all its glorious diversity. Shifting the global focus from the gunman to the victims is one example of Jacinda’s compassionate handling of the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand’s modern history. As a highly visible symbol of respect, she was photographed embracing and giving heartfelt condolences to the families in mourning in the aftermath of the atrocity, while wearing a black headscarf. Her political response has been equally progressive. Within 36 hours of the shooting, she had mobilised politicians to tighten up gun laws – and less than a week later, she announced sweeping and immediate changes banning assault rifles and military-style semi-automatics. She also made immediate moves to offer emotional and financial support to the “families of the fallen” in their native languages. Her linguistic skills have really helped to unite a country that appears to have lost its moorings. Particularly, her phrase, “they are us” resonated an inclusive message that fits with her drive for the celebration of all of New Zealand’s cultures rather than trying to homogenise them. Against a backdrop of terror, Jacinda has managed to unite and inspire. She stands in contrast to Putin who has no regards to the opposition and the media, to Modi who thrives on majoritarian hate-mongering and a heady mix of traditional beliefs with technocratic modernity led by big capital, and to Haseena who does not carry the opposition along though ensures development of her people to a considerable extent. Jacinda-mania, hence, is a blend of democratic, strategic, laissez-faire leadership with a dash of charisma, and with an ROU approach (I am the reflection of you).
Quest of the Global Transformational Leader:
World is still looking out for transformational leader of the century in most uncertain times of ecological crisis, abject poverty contrasted with a humongous wastage of resources, identity politics and fundamentalism blending with a greedy arms industry and finance capital, and an information-communication revolution alongside. A leader of and for our times, a leader who ensures development at the bottom with growth at the top as well.
The author is a media academic and columnist, currently Media Dean of Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai campuses.
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are of the author and thus do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy or position of OdishaLIVEPlus.)