Rethinking Leadership

The evolution of charismatic leadership introduced by Max Weber (1947) transformed and changed the world.  When Weber meant charismatic leadership he was talking of somebody with an ability to stand out from the crowd, who inspired and invigorated the mass through unique visions and exhilarated them to share their values and needs.

But soon this form of ‘revolutionary leadership’ was driven out by bureaucratic or traditional powers.  Ever since, building the right kind of leadership has always stood as an intricate task. The task has been a grueling one in case of Nepal too!

So, how to fill up this leadership vacuum? And what can be done to create a new leadership base in Nepal that can really guide the nation towards the right course? Or do we already have that leadership base emerging, if so, how do we connect to them and retain them?

The need for rethinking leadership

The extant leadership in Nepal has been gaining much criticism as it has failed miserably in guiding the nation at a delicate time of transition.  The weakness of the leadership has not just pushed the development process backwards, but it has rather invited various external actors to be involved in the so-called social and political ‘engineering’ process (one primary area being drafting of the new constitution) of the country.

For the past many years, what we have been witnessing is nothing else than our politicians bickering about political power and pushing the nation towards hopelessness. They have in fact let us down time and again, the persisting legitimacy crisis and authority gap which is an outcome of ineffective leadership has ultimately created a void in our social, political and economic sphere. Moreover as the efforts for writing the new constitution through consensus process hit the wall frequently, and as we fall into crisis (the recent being the massive earthquake on 25th April) the pang of not having the leaders of statesman stature turns out to be acute for the Nepalese.

Who are the leaders?

“Charm and grace are all that is needed to influence people and make a difference

Self-belief is a fundamental need of leaders.”

Leadership is much more than certain characteristics. Leadership is grounded on relationship, how we as leaders build our relations with other individuals and communities at large. So who could be the leaders? Well, everyone of us!  Each of us has an ability to influence the thoughts and behaviors of others in a substantial way. Each one of us who form the base of society can also be its leaders. Leadership is a completely individual phenomenon. Therefore it is entirely up to us whether we want to be the leaders or the followers and – if we wish to lead – how we do that, how can we be the change makers.

Rays of hope – strengthening the self directed mass

Various groups of self directed individuals and youth-led organizations during the post-earthquake period demonstrated in many ways through their laudable deeds that the next generation of youth are more than capable of leadership. This new force of the self directed mass connected the hard-hit communities with relief materials and rendered support through all possible ways.  The need of the hour now is to have a nationwide network of such self-motivated youths committed to some core values for social justice and nation building.

Professionalization of the newly emerged grassroot leadership is one of the most essential tasks that lies ahead of us. Providing the new leadership with necessary skills and training will help them to think differently from the competition developed by the market and away from the hierarchy imposed by the state and work for the betterment of the nation. The strategies that grassroots leaders use to manage risk are often ignored by the governments and other development partners. A better understanding, acknowledgement and sustenance of the skills and techniques such as  the ‘autonomous adaptation’ and ‘social innovations’ that are usually adopted by the grassroots leaders at the local level is essential .

To make this strong leadership base of alternative leaders, the next challenge and probably the biggest of all is to revive our institutions one by one that have been destroyed or weakened by years of political interference and stalemate.

When applying at least one of these techniques, the active citizenry mass will fill in the persisting social, political and economic void. With appropriate mentoring and appreciation these youth who are helping Nepal to rise can definitely lead the country and could be a solution to our leadership quagmire.  And yes, the quality of leadership is important, more than the charisma. Understanding the need of today and planning accordingly for tomorrow can help in building a new Nepal.


Related content, some thoughts

Here is a link I checked out recently that is probably pertinent to this. It deals with how to connect “the establishment” with “the grassroots” in an effective manner. There are some useful pointers in there, and I think also quite some overlap in ideas with us (but you need good loudspeakers):


16 December 2014: The future of diplomacy - new tools for a new global order by Ecfr on Mixcloud


Then there’s a couple of things I would have probably written differently (not saying you should):

Each one of us who form the base of society can also be its leaders. Leadership is a completely individual phenomenon.

I would use “a part” rather than “base”. A base implies that there is something on top of it, or refined from the base (usually not ad-hoc but more in the direction “once and for all”).

For me leadership is not “completely individual”. It depends on many factors if I feel motivated enough to participate (rare), or even lead (extremely rare). Most of the times I’d want to lead - I am not participating, and so have difficulties justifying taking the lead in something I perhaps oppose. Generally my readiness to participation or leadership is strongly predicated on the reaction of the people involved and close to me. It typically outweighs my internal motivation by a large margin. So in essence it is mostly my environment says if there is a chance that I’ll move to a leading position.

@trythis thank you for your comments. Yes probably i too would use ‘part’ instead of ‘base’, i was not getting the right word here.  I agree with you that environment has a great deal of role to play in shaping any form of leadership. Thanks

ideal types

Reading this piece reminded me of the classes on Weber that I have had the opportunity to attend (with different professors) and like every one of those classes, your piece has definitely added another layer of interpretation into that understanding @meenabhatta.

The thing about Weber’s types of leadership, in a way, are based on this idea of “ideal types” - and ideals tend to not exist in reality? Or at least they are “ideals” that can be achieved in an “ideal” environment? To see the young lead our nation through such a turbulent time was beyond charismatic - more than charm, there was grit. I do not know if Weber has a category for this type of temporary yet effective leadership.

I loved this bit: “The need of the house now is to have a nationwide network of such self-motivated youths committed to some core values for social justice and nation building.” Put so succinctly!

Hope to read more from you :slight_smile:

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Weber & friends :slight_smile:

I am not sure if Weber would mean “ideal” in the form of “desirable”. If I remember correctly he was generally relatively neutral on these issues in his academic writing (though I admit I am not terribly familiar with his works). What I would want to warn you of is that he seemed to have used the word “Herrscher”, which wikipedia translates as “authority”. This is not wrong but it is a slightly more general category, I believe closer to the original would be “ruler” or “lord” (as in “lord and master”). On a general note, I would not look to Germany for a useful cue on leadership. A leadership focused way of running things has run up a really bad track record (there are very notable exceptions - but they don’t even come close to balancing this). Merkel is a nice example of non-leadership I could talk more about. But the short form is that when Germany runs a half-assed consensus democracy things tend to work out much better (again, in my view). Merkel just lends a necessary face for the whole thing.

Regarding leaders in other cultural contexts (and since you rolled out the big guns) - if you like to read a lot you may want to have a look at Toynbee.

There is again a “German version”, which is considerably shorter, but I have serious issues with the language and some other things. It is so much shorter though that I would almost recommend it, and he does have a few things to say on leaders as well.

Personally, if I had the time, I would probably start digging deeper in the directions of the “dark triad” and Sandy Pentlands pertinent works, bottom up. I wonder what @Dorotea or @Caroline_Paulick-Thiel think about this. I believe they may be interested and probably have a much better background in this kind of things.

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@Dipti_Sherchan and @trythis thank you for your wonderful inputs.

Yes, Weber kind of leadership could be idealist, but achievable i guess. We already have many grass root leaders who possess that charisma and the grit to lead the change. The only hurdle i think being bureaucratic hassles and corruption. And yes, sustainability of such leadership is a big issue, therefore the greatest challenge being how does the state  keep such leadership intact.

Only now reading this…

Meena, Dipti, I was now re-reading some inspiring posts from Nepal and stopped at this which made me think at the crisis my country is also going through and the vacuum in real political leadership, the one that leads to good and progress. And of course the need for our generation to step up. I wrote about it recently.

Also wanted to drop here an article which I liked about the new leaders needing to have a moral vision first and foremost, and I think that can be compatible with grassroots leading.

While here, I’m also looking to find a good story from Nepal on what people are learning after the quake, particularly a story that acknowledges failure of sorts. Can you recommend one from Future Makers, since you know them best? Will keep searching anyway… If you know someone who is in Europe next February, we’re organising a community event, more about it here:

Take care!