The meek assume that you’re a leader the moment you achieve a specific station in life or in your career. The ones who worship the titles do more damage than benefit to the efforts of the ones that rise above the convenience of following others. It is a convenience because it demands less effort to follow a given path than it does to discover your own. If it is true that leadership begins the moment you do more than is expected of you, then every one of us has the ability and capacity to lead. And I believe that to be true.
A fixation on popularity distorts this image of true leadership. I see many toxic personalities being mimicked by others simply because of the title that those personalities hold, or the popularity that they enjoy on social media. Is it really leadership just because you have a following? If that were true, it could be argued that clowns are leaders too. Surely the station of leadership has to be warranted by more than just follower counts, or retweets?
In a time that celebrates celebrities more than it recognises merit, we have a generation growing up with the belief that inspiration lies in verbalising the struggles of weak-minded unprincipled fools because it celebrates their common failings rather than appreciating the need for principled determination. Being able to string together sentiments that celebrate each other’s struggles without recognising how much of those are self imposed has become the latest easy path to fame. But fame is just another way of describing what amuses or pacifies the masses.
One of the dreadful outcomes of social media and this liberal access that we have to a public platform is that it allows for genuinely demented or ignorant beings to organise themselves with like-minded fools that were rejected by the sane ones around them for good reason. Instead of considering why their ignorance was rejected or dismissed, they now have the option to go online and find others with a similar ache from rejection to recruit them into an organised response to demand acceptance, or dominance. That is not as cynical as it may sound.
Before this ease of access to a digital soap box, common sense prevailed in social structures that demanded credibility before accepting someone as a a leader. Such an approach served to quell the stupidity before it became a viral trend. Stupidity would then have less opportunity to survive beyond its immediate social structure and would have to go in search of another social structure in the hope of finding acceptance there instead. But that cycle of moving from one to another required a lot more effort, resources, and personal sacrifice. That in itself dissuaded many from making that move and instead encouraged them to either conform or to adjust their views relative to the challenges that they received in their social circles.
With pervasive access to social media, the less informed can now regroup without any sacrifices to their real life social structures and are entirely capable of leading a double life without any repercussions at all. Responsibility is thus dispersed among the masses because collective accountability means no individual responsibility. The convenience of such a way of life lays waste to social responsibility and instead inculcates a culture of extremism. However, given that extremism is redefined in such a structure, it means that mainstream acceptance of such extremism normalises it because of sheer numbers rather than merit, and suddenly we find ourselves in a state that turns idiots into icons and intellectuals into pyrrhias of society. Hence the greatest failing of democracy.
For this reason, democracy will never be tolerated in a capialist structure. A structure established for the sole purpose of generating wealth will always be focused on the prevalence of opinions that seek to optimise the probability of sustainably acquiring such wealth. Regardless of how popular an opinion may be, those that hold the purse strings will suppress populism in favour of profits. However, this only remains true if the holders of the purse have control over the masses, and are vested in the sustainability of the organisation more than they are in enriching themselves. If they don’t have control over the masses, the masses will organise and prevail in their populist demands despite it undermining the acquisition of wealth, which ultimately undermines the ability of the structure to employ the masses. If their vested interests lie in self-enrichment rather than serving the goals of the organisation, then corruption sets in. Perhaps an over simplification, but I believe that this simple cycle is what defines the probability of success of any organisation or society. The goals that they strive for may be different, but the challenges of meritocracy versus democracy remains true.
Leadership therefore cannot be considered credible if it merely enables the will of the populace without consideration for the sustainability or progress of that group. It also cannot be deemed leadership if it is self-serving and lacks meaningful accountability to the ones intended to be served. Equally so, it is also not leadership if it leads the charge of the masses without due consideration for the long term benefit of the masses. Leadership therefore cannot simply be the empowerment of popular opinion. It must be the tampering of such opinion with an informed view of the long term benefit of the needs of those that have an immediate demand. Being able to shape such opinion and guide it towards a sustainable strategy to not only meet the need but to grow the benefit beyond the immediate need is what will set true leaders apart from figureheads of populist opinions.
When populism drives leadership, it is inevitable that the worst among us will rise to lead, and thus the most corrupt or inept will reflect the selfish whims of the masses when they take office. Those that champion a course that celebrates the selfish dictates of the short-sighted will only serve themselves when in office simply because that is the principles that won them the approval of the people to begin with. Despite this obvious failing in defining leadership criteria, the masses will continue to be enraged by the corruption in public office of those that they voted into power for their ability to create a platform for the uninformed opinion rather than demonstrating true leadership by raising the level of awareness of the masses to recognise that which will result in the long term growth and sustainability of society.
To lead is therefore not to be popular. It is to uphold and strengthen that which the populace is too distracted to notice, but which is central to the upliftment of that very same populace. Plato phrased it beautifully when he said, “No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth.” We do not need proofs to validate this truth. As a natural consequence, it confirms that the ultimate outcome of the populist vote will result in the appointment to stations of leadership of the most deceitful rather than the most truthful among us, and social media plays perfectly into that equation.