Citizens, global trends and the future of leadership
From the relentless construction work involved in fixing the 40 feet sinkhole in the Japanese city of Fukuoka that ensured that the road was reopened within two days to Mark Carney’s reassuring statement as Governor of the Bank of England that helped calm the markets after the Brexit vote, leadership has always been a non-negotiable part of humankind’s progress from primitive brutish living to unbelievable applications of technology. At the earliest stages of constituting people into communities, the nature of leadership proffered was mostly inconsequential. The prominent concern was that leadership was offered. With the destructive effects of poor or misdirected leadership leading to two World wars, global economic inequalities, widening income gaps, and flagrant abuse of global resources, it has become imperative to place a demand on the nature of leadership offered.
Considering global trends, I predict that the future of leadership would evolve beyond giving direction to people, to giving people a platform to take leadership and responsibility for themselves and their society. Hence, the future of leadership transcends positional leadership to personal leadership by every single unit of a society. The Brexit referendum results have evidenced in clear terms that people want to be involved in the process that determines their fate and not delegate this to politicians. The implication is that people would oppose any unilateral leadership, regardless of its merit, except they can take personal responsibility for its implementation.
In the approaching years, the leadership that would enjoy ardent followership is leadership that is aware of the need for public participation in addressing societal needs, and puts mechanisms in place to drive individual units of the society to take ownership of the growth and development process. Responsive leadership, on the other hand, involves flexibility and adaptability in structuring engagement platforms for inclusive participation in the decision-making process. Responsive leadership proceeds on a presumption that leadership in every society is communal and collective, and every member of society must participate in the determination of its fate. It recognizes that every opinion has a legitimate right to be heard, and every person should be encouraged (in fact nurtured) to play an active role in societal decisions.
Preparation for the future requires that we begin to build frameworks that encourage and cultivate inclusiveness in decision making in national life and the different levels of leadership in every nation — whether sub-national, local governments or other micro-associations. Switzerland’s regular consultative referendums offers some good best practice on structures a society can institute to ensure that citizens play an integral role in leading the country. An underlying factor for such citizen leadership mechanisms to work is maintaining the inviolability of electoral and feedback system, so that every member of society is aware and conscious of the impact every individual opinion holds. Another important ingredient is an active but integrated interaction system where every citizen can participate in direct leadership. Whether constituted as a council, or local government, the interaction system must be a centerpiece which influences every decision by the central government. A good system should accommodate a vital and dynamic arrangement for ensuring that deference is made to the citizen feedback system in making conclusive decisions on the nation’s future.
The citizen feedback and decision making systems necessitates an effective communication between the formalized positional leadership and the citizen leadership system, both to ensure that informed decisions are made throughout the decision-making spectrum. The communication system must evolve beyond government propaganda to a robust interaction network that encourages honest feedback, critical analysis, empirical substantiations and unbiased discussions between all the stakeholders.
The success of any citizen-driven leadership will be driven by the devolution of decision making power from formal institutions to citizen-associations. In the earliest instance, there may be a need to set out levels of decisions — some requiring formal authority and others requiring collective decisions. This provides a learning curve for citizens to become aware of their role in governance and drive home their increased role in driving national conversations.
Responsible leadership also means that we redefine our priorities and concerns as society to even global equalities and reflect our joint societal concerns. It also requires that we galvanize citizens’ support to drive and direct community, national and global coalitions to solve human challenges. It also means reduced emphasis on national boundaries, and a preference for international cooperation to resolve global issues. In the end, when several humans are placed in one room, we are better reminded of our collective humanity and not our different nations.
In the present term, emerging leaders must look beyond positions when framing solutions to national and global challenges. There is a need to encourage grass root participation and take cognizance of citizens’ input in adopting implementation frameworks for community problems. In the future, I look forward to more nations where citizens take the lead.