EGO AND NARCISSISM RULE
But not all is lost, as Merkel and the young leaders of France and Canada show the kind of leadership the world needs now
Well, that was quick. The end of socalled “servant leadership”, I mean. Remember just a few years ago when everyone was talking about how we were all going to abandon the ego and embrace a philosophy in which leaders aimed to serve?
Those were the days! My friends with high-powered corporate jobs would regale me with stories about their bosses.
“Me, me, me,” one of them told me, describing his CEO’S general state of mind, at home and at the office. “It’s all about him.”
Then the transformation after the boss spent a few weeks on a leadership course: “Oh my, the man is the Dalai Lama now!”
It was amazing. Political leaders across the globe were seen walking around reading Nelson Mandela’s
Long Walk To Freedom, trying to become as saintly as the great man. Tech CEOS listened intently to the words of people like former US president Barack Obama and nodded sagely about an inclusive new world.
It hasn’t lasted. The ego and narcissism are back. We are seeing toxic leadership all over the place, from Russia to the US, from Brazil to Hungary.
So, few of you who keep the economy going will be surprised by the actions of the CEOS of many of our companies. You’ve probably seen some pretty toxic business leaders in your time. Like those odious Steinhoff characters, for example. Or those from VBS Mutual Bank.
In politics, just take our good friend Vladimir Putin of Russia for a great example of ego and toxicity. He is well known for releasing pictures of himself — bare-chested, riding a horse; in scuba gear; carrying a rifle with a scope; or taking down an opponent in martial arts. He is the man: James Bond and Napoleon rolled into one.
In 2013 he gave a television interview. But not just any old interview: this one lasted four hours and 47 minutes, beating his previous best by 15 minutes. His propaganda machine hailed it a huge success. I suspect most Russians fell asleep. He also detains political activists and bumps off journalists.
Last week was Thanksgiving here in the US. President Donald Trump was asked what he wanted to give thanks for. He replied: “For having a great family and for having made a tremendous difference in this country. I’ve made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you wouldn’t believe it.” He wasn’t going to wait for anyone to praise him. Heck no, not our Donald. He was going to sing his own praises. He continued: “People can’t even believe it. When I see foreign leaders, they say we cannot believe the difference in strength between the US now and the US two years ago … Made a lot of progress.”
Ho hum. This is a very long way from the day Mandela stood on the balcony of Cape Town City Hall in February 1990 and said: “I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today.
“I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”
If it was Trump on that balcony he would have told the crowd to bow and scrape before him and be grateful. Or something along those lines. So where shall the world look, these days, for leadership?
Not all is lost. Increasingly, it is Germany and people such as Angela Merkel, or the young leaders of France and Canada, who are showing the kind of leadership the world needs right now.
Last week Germany announced that it will stop all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and ban the 18 Saudi suspects linked to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from entering the 26 countries in the Schengen zone. Trump, on the other hand, refused to condemn Saudi Arabia or its king. Tells you something, doesn’t it?
We’re a long way from Mandela’s ‘not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people’