We are all acquainted with Imran Khan’s first innings of life as a cricketer. He was hailed as a true leader who led Pakistan to World Cup glory. While his cricketing brains and talent brought him success on the field, his looks and charisma earned him huge fan following off the field. Now as he is all set to take guard as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan, it’s bound to be the most important innings of his life yet, especially as he inherits plethora of problems from his predecessors.
Many people attribute problems plaguing Pakistan, including political instability and economic crisis, to lack of strong leadership. For them Pakistani rulers are no less than villains for they pushed the country into political quagmire and failed to pull them out. The cynicism has only grown over the years with politicians failing to meet the ‘ideal leader’ criteria.
At the same time, some people may be more optimistic about the leadership issue as they blame the circumstances for their failures. Besides, to emerge as a true leader is perhaps more difficult in these times.
Today when people gauge someone’s leadership qualities, they tend to judge them on the outcome or results they fetch rather than the efforts they put in. It may be harsh to judge the Pakistani leaders of past with this yardstick just as it would be unwise to absolve them. When politicians fail to deliver, they call it ‘collective failure’ and when they happen to succeed they like to call themselves as great leaders.
Some people find no politician worthy of being called a leader. It’s not hard for them to delineate the traits of a good leader for history has produced so many of them.
So what makes a leader a leader in real sense?
Firstly, a leader is defined by what he stands for and what he seeks to achieve. And since people differ in what they believe in, someone’s hero may be somebody else’s villain. Second, to assume the mantle of leadership may be easy, but it’s quite difficult to keep it on. One must stand the test of the times.
Leaders stay true to themselves and their beliefs even under insurmountablepressure. They don’t give up even as their integrity is challenged. Leaders are aware of ground realities and accordingly stay the course or course-correct. They conjure hopeduring times of uncertainty.They are decisive and brave enough to take a strong action when the circumstances call for one.They grow wiser with experiences. They have the mental toughness to stay calm when rattled.They don’t change their approach just to conform to what others wantthem to be.
The courageous leaders have the endurance to keep their beliefs intact. A short-sighted politician can never be a leader because he is afraid of being held accountable. He lacks the courage to break free from the fear that may hold him back from making the right but unpopular decisions.
Sometimes we also question the relevance of a leader. Being relevant doesn’t mean to endorse the status quo. Rather, it’s about challenging the status quo and conventional wisdom. A true leader has his ears to the ground. He knows what people are thinking but afraid to speak up. He doesn’t hold back from calling a spade a spade and expose the hypocrites. A hypocritical politician tries to keep everyone in good books.
A leader is not afraid of change and uncertainty. He uses it instead to become wiser.
Courageous leaders never stop fighting. They draw inspiration from those who came before them and were brave enough to tread new paths where others would dread to go. They take the responsibility to groom the next generation by inculcating leadership qualities in them.
There was a time when politicians commanded respect among the masses. When people believed their future was in safe hands and the leaders in charge indeed delivered the goods. People felt that politicians were acting in good faith and they could in fact make things happen. People reposed faith in them and they did deserve the discretion. One may not relate these virtues to the current crop of leaders.
Good leaders are honest, competent, and effective. But these are the very things missing today.
Today’s so-called leaders look to keep themselves relevant by outdoing each other in the number and frequency of press statements, which are usually replete with accusations and counter-accusations. It is a sheer wastage of precious newspaper space. Bad mouthing their opponents may appear a useful practice to these politicians, but it only adds to the public cynicism about leadership.
Our politicians promise things they know they can’t deliver. As Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev once famously said “politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers”.
Coming back to Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician has evoked hope among people of Pakistan. It remains to be seen whether he can translate his cricketing success into his political avatar. Imran will do well if he can emulate the traits of a true leader spelt above.