When I was a teenager at school, I remember reading a slogan on someone’s bag (probably a girl I was unrequitedly in love with) – I’d rather follow than lead someone astray. At the time, I thought it was rather clever and feeling. I was very wrong.
Put to one side the old and new philosophers and philosophies, because they disappear up their own backsides in a jungle of words, sophistry, and obfuscation whilst never really addressing the core of any issue. There is good, and there is bad, and they can be defined, and there is a very narrow strand of standard which is morality (and it doesn’t depend on some organised faith, or on some imagined philosophical definition; it just is). Anyone without a moral compass, anyone who cannot distinguish between good and bad, anyone who deliberately lies and misleads (no pun intended) and primarily engages in behaviour that’s for personal gain is, by my definition at least, not just a bad leader, but not a leader at all. Look at that slogan again – if you’re going to lead people astray, you’re not a good person in the first place, and will never be a leader anyway.
Now look at the world around us – Trump on his podium trumpeting (maybe that pun is intended) his lies, trying to avoid accountability for something he’s done wrong, something for which he was impeached, only to be found not guilty by the Republican representatives because they’re slavish right-wingers; look at Putin the dictator killing innocents with impunity; look at Sunak, desperate to deport a few hundred innocent asylum seekers to a murderous Rwanda, and desperate to play the immigration card to have any hope of winning the upcoming general election (if there is one). Are they leaders? Do they exhibit the goodness, the moral compass, the morality of true leaders? Of course not.
What I learned, from the words of real leaders, from my own personal experiences as someone who ended up leading others, was that the truly great leaders always go at the pace of the slowest, that caring and encouraging those who might be seen as the weakest of a group is actually to make a group stronger, more resilient, more motivated, more able to spread goodness around them. I remember, in the dim past, talking to the captain of a cricket side who constantly complained that the best players wouldn’t make themselves available frequently enough. “Then pick those players who want to play,” I saud. ‘”Not those you think are the best players. You’ll get better results that way, and a more cohesive side.” It worked.
I don’t know why I’m writing this. Today has been one of those days where the dearth of real leadership, the dearth of people with goodness at their core, has become clearer to me than ever. It’s a very sad clarity, this, because I see all these people who have been elevated to the positions of power they crave for their own personal gain, whilst millions, literally millions (and I never use literally lightly), are being ground into the dirt, starved, persecuted, hunted, and murdered in every possible way imaginable. And too few people care. Misled and undereducated rural America, misled and undereducated rural England, oppressed Russia, oppressed China, the fragmented Middle East.
That’s where we’re at – and no genuine leaders anywhere to be found.