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What actually constitutes leadership?

Leadership is still a designation in this country; Leadership is still a seat of power in this country; Leadership is still a title with its perks and benefits in this country; Leadership is still a family heritage in this country. And that explains why we have produced so many Presidents and Prime Ministers but hardly any leaders. The proverbial attachment to the seat of power or the Chair as the head of a position is itself a denial of your leadership potential. It is an admission that without this title, this seat, this chair, I am powerless and thus would not be able to lead. This definition of leadership is too narrow and functional to really command any respect and inspiration to the individual person itself or conduct of the person.

Politics all over and in Pakistan is about accumulation of power through formal authority. If you need an example of people with and without official power just compare before and after status of being in office and out of office. All the pomp and fuss about General Musharraf when he was in uniform and when he was not in uniform and for that matter when he was a President and now that he is not the President is self evident. Similarly, pick up two images of either Nawaz Sharif or Khaqan Abbasi and just compare their body language and their communication before and after being PM and you will see how the position fuels their status and how lack of it deflates their whole demeanour. That is not to say that official positions are not necessary but they should speed up or facilitate the person not make or break the person.

In our country the bigger the title, the higher the position the grander the ego and the more arrogant the disposition the stronger your leadership. Leadership is all about protocol and show off. Imagine their insecurity, that the MPA or MNA designations are flaunted on car number plates. The black window four wheelers sandwiched between protocol cars symbolize special people with special treatment. Stalling traffic, bypassing queues, breaching rules are all signs of the high and the mighty. They take pride in this process and proudly flaunt this status instead of being ashamed of it.

On the other hand, being one of the people and mixing with the ordinary is below them. This is such an entrenched culture that when, on some odd occasion, they do such an act, it is considered such an “amazing” gesture. Consider this “Breaking News” – Chief Minister of Balochistan on his last day of government leaves the CM House waving to his servants and staff. This parting benevolence was of such magnitude that channels stopped their programs to break it to the viewers. Such is the rarity of being a common man’s man. Another example of how those who come to power due to their supporters and those who vote for them was in a recent workers’ convention of PML-N. A worker and fan came up to the stage to greet his favourite leader, Nawaz Sharif. As soon as he tried to approach him the staff came running and pushed him off the stage and beat him up viciously. No amount of security concerns can justify the thrashing given to a fan who was desperate to be close to his leader.

It is this interpretation of leadership by this class that has completely destroyed the image of politicians in Pakistan. The feudal, brutal, guy whom people bend to and serve while waiting for just a wave of a hand or some micro favour is what has been accepted as “that is the way high ups are”. But this is not how high ups are and this is not how democratic leaders are and we need to spread this education so that the public must demand the right to access and personable behavior from its leaders.

True democracy means, of the people and for the people. True democrat leaders behave like other people do. Their acts signify and reflect the masses. An example of this was recently witnessed in Holland. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte dropped his coffee cup in Parliament, then cleaned up the mess himself under loud cheers of the “Parliament’s cleaners”. Not only that, Rutte got a lesson from the cleaners in adjusting the mop to his height in case he spills his coffee again. His humility has definitely won hearts worldwide and everybody was all praise for the Dutch PM. This is not the first time when Mark Rutte is being hailed for doing something out of the box. In 2017, when he went to meet the Dutch king, Rutte ditched his car and took a cycle to the palace. Unimaginable in Pakistan where even an Eid wreath being laid on the Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum is a whole protocol and parade of the black armoured cavalcade.

The sad part is that it is not just the position carriers themselves but their families and friends who feel that status is their entitlement as they are connected through blood or kinship or friendship to the men in the seat of power. The recent images of an sessions court where many candidates had submitted their papers for elections being brushed aside as the daughter of the ex-Prime Minister came to submit her papers is a mockery of democracy. The sight of the sniffer dogs, security checks and flower petals on her protocol was an image that tells the story of how this high ups apartheid has not led but misled. On the other hand while Obama was in office his daughter was seen doing an internship on the cash till of a McDonald’s restaurant. Try suggesting that to the daughers and sons of the privileged and it will be considered almost a political blasphemy.

Leadership based on position has a very short expiry date. Leadership based on the person has an immortality beyond titles and positions. All leaders who are still cherished after they have left the position, seat and the world are those who have focused on moral authority instead of formal authority; who have understood that humility is the cornerstone of greatness and who have lived by the principle that the higher you go the lower you bend.


Andleeb Abbas, "What actually constitutes leadership?," Business Recorder. 2018-06-21.
Keywords: Political science , Power of officials , Leadership potential , Nawaz Sharif , Khaqan Abbasi , General Musharraf , Pakistan , CM , PML-N

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