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Drawing instructive lessons of leadership from champions of supreme iniquities

Great leaders leave for later generations the task of imitation and identify themselves through constant response to the rhythms of changing circumstances; they turn the inchoate emotions of the mob to the purpose of their own; they seize on the opportunities of their time, the confiding hopes, fears, frustrations, crises and potentialities; and they succeed when events have formed barriers for them.

While great leaders are responsible for supreme accomplishment we best expect of them, vital in such gains as humanity has made in individual freedom, religious and racial tolerance, social justice and respect for human rights, they nevertheless have also been responsible for the most extravagant follies and most monstrous crimes that have beset suffering humanity. They have been answerable for greatest aberrations from morality.

Many books and articles have been written about “Leadership” and almost all of them are a repetition of the same wishy-washy theories of leadership. There is Jim Collins with his nonsensical levels of leadership; and John Maxwell who, in his book Thinking for a Change, states that leaders need to have a place to “think” their thoughts, a place to “shape” their thoughts, a place to “stretch” their thoughts and a place to “land” their thoughts. What utter bollocks!

The greater part of what has been written on leadership conveniently focuses on personal traits of those who have been champions of virtuous conduct and deliberately fails to examine those leaders whom society dismiss as corruptors of the soul, champions of supreme iniquities, and ruffians who present untold terror to humanity and unsettle ordinary existence of life.

Evil deeds executed on a grand scale are not born of miracles but are the fruits of great leadership gone astray. These are generally men endowed with the competence to arouse the emotions of their followers and direct them towards a particular cause, all charged with common determination of purpose.

Researchers are doing an injustice to the subject of leadership by not examining what shapes these ruffians take who often prove better leaders than those we rather hold in high regard. We have witnessed how leaders of terrorist organisations have managed to leave their footprints in the sand of time for next generations to follow, in spite of our best endeavours to disrupt the passing over of the baton.

We impose an undue burden of infallibility on those leaders we hold in highest esteem; view them as vanguards of morality; that their duty is to remain in perfect harmony with our expectations, however unreasonable, about them. These are mere mortals who are susceptible to falter during the vagaries of life.

We do not appreciate the magnitude and difficulty of trust to which duty has imposed on our leaders and we demand accountability regardless. We are certainly in many instances unreasonable to our leaders to demand of them exertion beyond the natural human competence. We should within reason hold them accountable and allow them to fall on their swords.

None of the leaders, upon whom we derive some measure of pleasure from deriding and lambasting for every false step they make in discharging the arduous duties we have tasked them with, are perfect; yet we have a perfectionistic approach in appraising their competence and performance.

From former president Nelson Mandela to President Thabo Mbeki, including Jacob Zuma — none of them is without natural human flaws of character and judgment. However, we cannot with a benevolent human mind, devoid of any inane prejudices, contest that they have been outstanding leaders in many uncelebrated instances of their discharge of duty. We are expeditious to impress on their false steps and erase from memory the good they have achieved.

Those pursuing the studies of leadership, like Collins and Maxwell, ought to examine the varied traits of leaders beyond corporate executives, to include especially those ruffians in charge of largest criminal and terror organisations, to reveal consciousness to the truth that great leadership is not an exclusive preserve reserved only for men of virtuous conduct. We can draw instructive lessons of leadership from every Tom, Dick & Jabulane.

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  • Sentletse Diakanyo's blogs may contain views on any subject which may upset sensitive readers. Parental guidance is strongly advised.