I happen to have a knack for saying the worst possible things in job interviews. During a panel interview, I was asked the regular “Why should we hire you” question. To which I replied, “Because you don’t have a choice.” I clearly remember a member of panel leaning back into his chair and saying “It was going so well…” Fast forward to my final interview at the same organization– the very humble Head of Human Resource Division asked me where do I see myself in next 5 years. Terrified of what I might say, I decided to go with a very safe “In a managerial position sir, managing a dynamic team of resourceful individuals”. Much to my surprise he replied “Usman from a guy like you I was expecting you’d say you see yourself as a business leader”. Having the license to go I said “Was only trying not to state the obvious sir”….. So much for humility today.

Leadership is not merely about running day to day affairs but possessing the ability to lead and show the way. Some believe it can’t be learned but only enhanced, sharpened and polished. A leader motivates and aspires to inspire. A successful leader has charisma, is dedicated to and has a commitment to continuous improvement. However these qualities are not mandatory. Yet there is something, a quality, a trait that a leader must possess. Valor! A leader must be brave. To this day we all are in awe of Mandela’s “I’m prepared to die”, a prisoner daring a hostile jury to sentence him to die… It takes guts to do that. A timid selfish man can’t be a leader.

Corona Pandemic is the biggest challenge our generation is facing and there is a shocking lack of leadership on the global stage. As they say, anyone can lead when the plan is working but only the best when plans start falling apart. Leader of the free world is more concerned with making his country great again while majority of the others are dumbfounded. It is quite clear that the decisions we take in this time of crisis will shape our world for years to come. It is not only about how we overcome this imminent threat, but the larger question is what kind of a world do we want to live in after all of this is over.

Machiavelli, the first political theorist to reject utopian political ideas, notes in The Prince “An effective ruler should prefer to be feared than to be loved because fear is a constant emotion. Men are less concerned with hurting someone who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared. However he shall, under all circumstances, avoid hatred. As hatred eliminates all fear from men’s hearts.” There are lessons to be learned and choices to be made.

A leader doesn’t have to be as sharply dressed as Jinnah, or as good an orator as Lincoln, or as charismatic as Nehru. He can very ably and comfortably lead the way like Gandhi, walking barefoot wrapped in two pieces of cloth not accustomed with conventional methods of public speaking. He can do that, only if his character is of the highest order, his integrity is impeccable and his commitment to the cause is beyond question. Such different personalities, yet similar stories of struggle hope and ultimate triumph. You’ll find these qualities as a running theme in leaders of all kinds shapes and forms (political, religious, business).

Having total faith in liberty, equality, free speech and civil rights, a liberal leader can be faced with a predicament while making tough or should I say unpopular decisions. It’s the responsibility of the leaders to not only guide and show the way but also to educate. They are entrusted with decision making in matters that affect the lives of their people; hence they have a responsibility to make the right decision. Not always the popular decisions, but the right ones.