The eight rules of good lead­er­ship

The world is not per­fect but there are ways it can be made bet­ter, writes Wilmot James

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

THERE are two char­ac­ters that ex­em­plify the grow­ing re­vul­sion against in­jus­tice in our land. One is Charles Dick­ens’s Pip who, in Great Ex­pec­ta­tions, re­marked that “in the lit­tle world in which chil­dren have their ex­is­tence, there is noth­ing so finely per­ceived and finely felt as in­jus­tice”.

Amartya Sen in­tro­duces his fa­mous book The Idea of Jus­tice (2009) with the story of how Pip rec­ol­lects the un­told suf­fer­ing he had un­der his sis­ter’s regime of capri­cious vi­o­lence.

He goes on to talk about how the per­cep­tion of man­i­fest in­jus­tice ap­plies to adults too: “What moves us,” says Sen, “is not the re­al­i­sa­tion that the world falls short of be­ing com­pletely just… but that there are clearly re­me­di­a­ble in­jus­tices around us that we want to elim­i­nate.”

Sen con­tin­ues: “This is ev­i­dent enough in our day-to-day life, with in­equities or sub­ju­ga­tions from which we may suf­fer and which we have good rea­son to re­sent, but it also ap­plies to more wide­spread di­ag­noses of in­jus­tice in the wider world in which we live.

“It is fair to as­sume that Parisians would not have stormed the Bastille, Gandhi would not have chal­lenged the em­pire on which the sun used not to set, Martin Luther King Jr would not have fought white supremacy in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ (and Nel­son Man­dela would not have spent 27 long years in prison) were it not for their sense of man­i­fest in­jus­tices that could be over­come.”

It is this in­cli­na­tion to rem­edy what is pos­si­ble to rem­edy in a world of con­sid­er­able in­jus­tice and un­fair­ness that should de­fine the demo­cratic project in South Africa at this time.

In his clas­sic The­ory of Jus­tice, John Rawls ar­gues that if we were to think ra­tio­nally about hu­man ex­is­tence to­day a sense of fair­ness for all should lead us to want ev­ery­one to have (1) an equal right to the most ex­ten­sive lib­er­ties com­pat­i­ble with the lib­er­ties of all; (2) fair ac­cess to op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­one; and (3) the great­est ben­e­fit to the least ad­van­taged con­sis­tent with the ben­e­fit for all.

Jus­tice would be served if in­sti­tu­tions passed the test of Rawls’ propo­si­tions.

Then, there is the fa­mous tale of Lion. Lion caught Rab­bit in the act of steal­ing. Njab­ulo Nde­bele (in Af­ter the TRC, 2000), as only he can, tells the story: “Rab­bit was help­ing him­self to a meal he had found in a trap that Lion had laid in a cave. Lion was en­raged and pounced on the thief.

“As Lion was about to de­vour the cul­prit, Rab­bit screamed in ter­ror that the cave was col­laps­ing, and that both of them would be saved if Lion, who was stronger, propped up the ceil­ing with his pow­er­ful limbs, while Rab­bit rushed to find help.

“Lion, caught in the sud­den­ness of a dan­ger­ous mo­ment, and in­stantly grate­ful that he had not reck­lessly eaten a source of vi­tal and timely wis­dom, im­me­di­ately sprung up on his hind legs, prop­ping up the roof of the cave with his front paws.

Rab­bit sprinted away, and, of course, never re­turned. Lion re­mained there in the cave, a liv­ing rafter, hold­ing dear life in his own paws, and start­ing to re­alise with dread that he was be­com­ing tired. Doom hung over him as he pon­dered why lions like all cats were bi­o­log­i­cally made to be so es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to fa­tigue.

Pre­pared to be buried alive, he fi­nally let go of the roof. Noth­ing hap­pened. His re­lief at be­ing alive was mo­men­tary, as it dawned on him that he had been fooled.”

Rab­bit pos­sessed the twisted in­tel­li­gence of cun­ning. His word meant noth­ing.

He was the art­ful sur­vivor. Lion com­manded the in­tel­li­gence of wis­dom, in­tegrity and stead­fast­ness. He was will­ing to hold up the roof of the cave for oth­ers to be safe.

He car­ried the rep­u­ta­tion of his species for brav­ery on his broad shoul­ders. Pip’s vis­ceral re­coil at in­jus­tice and Lion’s in­tegrity of stead­fast pur­pose de­fine the core aspects of what democrats wish to see in South African pub­lic life.

To get there takes demo­cratic lead­er­ship. What does demo­cratic lead­er­ship mean? Arthur Sch­lesinger in Cy­cles of Amer­i­can His­tory re­marks that there are eight el­e­ments to the def­i­ni­tion.

First, lead­er­ship refers to the ca­pac­ity to in­spire and mo­bilise masses of peo­ple.

“Lead­er­ship makes the world go round. Love no doubt smooths the pas­sage; but love is pri­vate trans­ac­tion be­tween con­sent­ing adults. Lead­er­ship is a pub­lic trans­ac­tion with his­tory.” Man­dela made one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary pub­lic trans­ac­tions with his­tory.

Sec­ond, we join those who be­lieve that in­di­vid­u­als make a dif­fer­ence in his­tory. It was Karl Marx who said in­di­vid­u­als do not make his­tory as they please or un­der cir­cum­stances of their choos­ing, but we re­ject out of hand the idea that the course of life is pre­de­ter­mined, whether it is by the “the dia­lec­tic” or “the logic of cap­i­tal­ism” or the “national demo­cratic rev­o­lu­tion”.

De­ter­min­ism de­nies us the free­dom to act and to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for what we choose to do.

Third, the pur­pose of lead­er­ship in a democ­racy “is to find a means of or­dered lib­erty in a world con­demned to ev­er­last­ing change” un­der cir­cum­stances where there is never enough time or space or in­for­ma­tion to tackle prob­lems with a sense of con­fi­dence.

Po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship re­quires cre­ativ­ity un­der pres­sure. It also de­pends on a con­stant search for con­sent.

Good demo­cratic lead­er­ship urges hu­man­ity to­wards in­di­vid­ual free­dom, so­cial jus­tice and re­li­gious and racial tol­er­ance.

Fourth, demo­cratic lead­er­ship is the art of per­suad­ing cit­i­zens (and mem­bers of one’s party) to agree to a creatively crafted plan for in­no­va­tion even when it goes against their vested in­ter­ests. Change is al­ways threat­en­ing to some. We must, how­ever, re­mem­ber that the real threat to democ­racy is not rad­i­cal­ism but stag­na­tion, in­er­tia and habit.

Lead­er­ship takes vested in­ter­ests in the cur­rent or­der and lifts it into the fu­ture or­der. This hap­pens best un­der cir­cum­stances of growth and pros­per­ity.

Fifth, demo­cratic change prefers in­cre­men­tal re­form rather than rev­o­lu­tion.

The key philoso­pher of the “open so­ci­ety” Karl Pop­per (who in the light of the closed com­mu­nist so­ci­eties of East­ern Europe wrote The Open So­ci­ety and its En­e­mies) made the dis­tinc­tion be­tween piece­meal en­gi­neer­ing and the to­tal trans­for­ma­tion of so­ci­ety ac­cord­ing to some ide­o­log­i­cal mas­ter plan.

Pop­per pre­ferred suc­cess­ful piece­meal en­gi­neer­ing ap­plied with jus­tice. Vi­o­lence is never a sen­si­ble way to change so­ci­ety. Re­form avoids the ar­ro­gance of rev­o­lu­tion.

Sixth, demo­cratic lead­er­ship is state­craft by re­flec­tion and choice.

It re­quires hav­ing a bal­ance, gov­erned by a con­sti­tu­tion, be­tween vig­or­ous ex­ec­u­tive power and demo­cratic free­dom (Amer­i­cans pre­fer the ex­pres­sion “repub­li­can lib­erty”, which is more an­a­lyt­i­cally ac­cu­rate in mean­ing but eas­ily mis­un­der­stood here) that in­sists on ac­count­abil­ity and is per­pet­u­ally fear­ful of cen­tral­i­sa­tion and au­to­cratic over­reach.

Good lead­ers use their nat­u­ral tal­ents and virtues in the vo­ca­tion of pub­lic ser­vice.

Sev­enth, demo­cratic lead­ers must com­mand the lin­guis­tic fa­cil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate their vi­sion and mis­sion to so­ci­ety, both in sub­stance and in tone.

Lead­ers must set the ex­am­ple of talk­ing in a lan­guage that is pre­cise, lu­cid and mea­sured and, in tone, har­mo­nious, bal­anced and el­e­gant. Lead­ers must never give up on the quest for lin­guis­tic pre­ci­sion nor sur­ren­der to the de­cay and se­man­tic chaos that we have to­day. Eighth, lead­ers are im­per­fect. Some lead­ers have brought great harm to the world. Oth­ers have con- ferred great ben­e­fit.

But even good demo­cratic lead­ers must be treated with a re­serve of mis­trust, for they are not demigods.

No leader is in­fal­li­ble and ev­ery one should be re­minded of this at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals.

“Un­ques­tion­ing sub­mis­sion cor­rupts lead­ers and de­means fol­low­ers.

“Hero wor­ship for­tu­nately gen­er­ates its own an­ti­dote, for ev­ery hero be­comes a bore at some point. Ir­rev­er­ence ir­ri­tates lead­ers but is their sal­va­tion.”

Dr James is fed­eral chair­man of the DA.


DEMOC­RACY IN AC­TION: Out­go­ing South African Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela casts his bal­lot in June, 1999. Man­dela’s lead­er­ship was an ex­tra­or­di­nary pub­lic trans­ac­tion with his­tory, says the writer.

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