The Human Element in Leaders
Now and again, one person stands out among a group of many and pioneers a movement so intense and so captivating that everyone else in the group elevates that person to an esteemed position. The group starts to rely on this one person for guidance, wisdom and supervision of important issues. This is how leaders manifest. It’s important to note that the most influential leaders are bred by times of hardship and turmoil. They bring about necessary transformation which leads to the attainment of common group goals. Over time, it is only natural that this reliance on one person will lead to certain expectations from the group.
These expectations are not really different to what people within the group expect from each other however, these expectations become heightened when it comes to the leader. Honesty and integrity are the most common expectations. People expect human behaviour from their peers but the status of leader is such that it eventually becomes impossible for people to apply the same human standards to what is expected of a leader.
Also, by virtue of being in a position of leadership, leaders attract excessive attention. With the media and technological advances in communication, I need not explain how quickly information about leaders can be shared these days. Being constantly in the eye of the members of the group translates into the actions and behaviour of the leader being amplified. The good things that a leader does are heavenly and a leader’s flops are the work of the devil. It’s almost as if a leader is anointed with some unspoken divinity which is assumed and endorsed by the group.
The saying that goes “expectations lead to disappointments” is appropriate and relevant to this view of leaders. Whether they appreciate and accept this or not; leaders are role models and they will be emulated. That is the cross of the leader and the leader must bear this in mind when making decisions. On the other hand, the group must be mindful of the fact that leaders are human too.
Leaders are not beyond human trials and emotions.
They are tempted. They go through times of disillusionment and fear. They lose sight of what’s important and they also make mistakes. They go astray. They become greedy and power-hungry. This is often forgotten until a leader is found with his pants down or, as politician Julius Malema puts it, “with his hands in the wrong pocket”. People forget that there is a human being underneath the leadership qualities. People forget the human element in leaders.
People forget the human element in leaders so much so that when a leader strays from his known code of ethics, it appears as if everything else that is positive that the leader has ever done is instantly erased from memory. The shock and surprise at the leader’s transgressions consumes the group, sometimes beyond reason.
Some say that the measure of leadership value which most leaders display is questionable to begin with and if anything, people should expect more from leaders. I beg to differ. I think members of the group should expect more from themselves. By expecting more from each other, only then can members of the group justify expecting more from the leader. After all, the character of a leader is shaped by the belief and value systems of the group.
If a group wants a leader who is incorruptible, then the group needs to root out corruption within itself. If a nation wants a president who will not accept “brown envelopes”, then that nation must not be saturated with people who offer and accept bribes without thinking twice about it.
Quite simply, if a group expects a lot from a leader, it should also have high standards and a dependable code of ethics within itself. This is one of the ways to ensure leaders of a higher quality. Even then, at the back of the minds of everyone in the group, the human element in leaders must never be forgotten.