List of good leaders is receding

THE FIFTH COLUMN

Growing up, I had two sets of world leaders hovering around the edges of my adolescent reality: a set with hair, and a set without. The hairless men (they were all men) were in charge of a country cut off from the world where they locked up people for little reason, whereas the men endowed with robust follicles were known as the leader of the free world, even though they were only in charge of one country.

The names of the men without hair were fittingly short — PW and FW — whereas in the hairy group one name in particular — Bush — stood out. Hair and no hair. A free country and a captive one.

Also part of my adolescent experience was the news that some people have leadership qualities, and others don’t. I also received the startling revelation that some people, men in particular, were simply “born leaders”. Prefects were chosen on this innate ability to lead — an attribute closely tied to academic results and overall presentability, which I could only but assume were part of the leadership package. (Bad skin concealed whatever leadership qualities I may have had. I wasn’t someone my fellow pupils would look up to — or even straight at.)

I think it’s safe to say the world is experiencing a leadership crisis. They certainly don’t make them like they used to.

Much like his bald forebears, a bald man with a vegetable-shaped head had done untold damage during his reign here. In the land of hair, a leader with a yellow tint is doing untold damage there. (Our current leader has, what you might call, a receding headline, which is better than his predecessor’s, but still heading in the wrong direction.)

Britain has no leader to speak of and I wonder, is that such a bad thing? Let it run for a while and see whether things get better or worse. If leaders are chosen, at times for their looks, at other times by the money they can raise, do we need them? Are we that bad at decision-making? Or is it responsibility — the timeless appeal to sit back and say, “I wash my hands of this.”

A while ago I attended a yoga class where, unbeknownst to me, chanting was part of the offering. At the end of the class, I chanted under my breath with the rest and then listened as the instructor asked us to sit still and “send positive energy to the leaders of the world”. I sat dead still and sent all the energy I could muster. I sent it to them as a collective, not picking favourites or hoping.

Donald Trump was elected leader of the free world shortly after that and the talk of state capture in South Africa had just begun. My — our — positive energy seemed to have made things worse. I firmly believe the problem didn’t lie with the energy, but with the recipients. I think it bounced off of them.

Of late, I’m directing energy to those around me with a little going to myself. Not saying anything about the yoga class, I’ve had much better results. My life is manageable; the decisions I make are sound. As far as my immediate surrounds and circumstances go, I’m a leader in my field. 

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Hans Mackenzie Main
Hans Mackenzie Main
Writer/Columnist at Mail & Guardian

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