Atlee, the British Prime Minister,
once remarked that Charles de Gaulle
of France was a very good soldier
but a very bad politician. De Gaulle
responded by saying that politics
was too serious a matter to be left
to the politicians. The great French
statesman basically implied that politicians
weren't always good leaders.
all politicians aren't good leaders,
but all leaders are good politicians.
Leaders need to combine their pragmatism
and political skills to have their
ideals prevail. Abraham Lincoln broke
laws, violated the Constitution, usurped
arbitrary power and trampled individual
liberties; he did all of these for
the singular purpose of saving the
Union. A politician would do all of
these and more to stay in power. Thus
one of the distinguishing elements
between leaders and politicians is
whether they use power as a means
or an end.
there are other differences as well.
Leaders stand up for principle, and
they must serve a purpose, which is
linked to the welfare of the country
and the people. Whereas politicians
are chameleons, ready to compromise
whenever it is convenient. If leaders
are compared to water, they give shape
to the pot, which holds them. Politicians,
on the other hand, take the shape
of the pot without hesitation. Leaders
would be steadfast in their ambition
to struggle for change. Politicians
change their struggle to remain steadfast
in their ambition for gains.
French philosopher Henri Bergson once
advised, "Act as men of thought.
Think as men of action." Politicians
are mostly men of action, but they
aren't always men of thoughts. They
are demagogic in nature, capable of
whipping millions into frenzy, but
they cannot appeal to the people as
a moral force. Both politicians and
leaders are calculated, but while
politicians can be phony, leaders
are the characteristics of a leader?
General de Gaulle argued that the
basis of leadership is charisma, which
is a personal magnetism that enables
an individual to attract or influence
people. Charisma gives prestige, which
gives authority that makes a politician
feared, and a leader revered. Three
concrete things support prestige:
mystery, character and grandeur. There
can be no prestige without mystery,
so a leader must always have something
which others cannot altogether fathom.
He also must be laconic and exercise
silence where appropriate to enhance
while mystery intrigues people, it
doesn't always attract them. For this
a leader needs character. While most
people think of character as moral
strength and fortitude, de Gaulle
defined character as the fervent desire
and inner power to exert one's will.
The man of character doesn't seek
above all to please his superiors,
but rather aims to be true to himself.
leader must also show grandeur. He
must aim high, show that he has vision,
act on the grand scale and so establish
his authority over his followers.
He must mark and symbolize a grand-national
ambition to draw to himself the faith
and dreams of people. He must show
the will for the wish of his followers.
are all worms," said Winston
Churchill in a discussion with friends
about the meaning of life. Then he
added, "But I do think that I
am a glowworm." Leaders are glowworms
who stand out and lead, while the
politicians are worms, who wiggle
and mislead. In Greek mythology, Apollo
gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy,
but also a curse so that people didn't
believe her warnings. One of the contradictions
of democracy is that people give their
votes to the politicians, but refuse
to be led by them.
one of the failures of modern politics
is rooted in that contradiction. People
who win the election aren't always
the right selection. They win by various
means, not because they are the best
choice. And the people vote for them
for money, sometimes under coercion
and many times because they don't
have better choice.
explains the disarray in our politics,
where money and muscle count more
than anything. Hence, you may have
politicians with charisma, but not
leaders with prestige, the transition
to authority somewhat hazed by lack
of character, grandeur and mystery.
Today's politicians look diminished,
their minds congested by the narrow
lanes of paltry interests instead
of the thoroughfare of magnanimity.
politics is no longer synonymous with
leadership. Anybody can become a politician,
anybody who has money. Money comes
from unfair means, and people who
adopt unfair means do not have character.
People, who do not have character,
do not have prestige, and the only
way they can have authority is by
unleashing terror. Thus three concrete
things of modern politics are corruption,
crime and violence. Corruption leads
to crime and crime leads to violence,
the vicious circle of grim politics
perpetuated in that motion.
result is a deadlock that gets repeated.
Politicians sustain that deadlock
because it suits them and at the end
of their term in power, they leave
with more money than they brought
in. You need money to be in politics
and you make money if you are in politics.
The government of the money, by the
money and for the money has turned
democracy into plutocracy with a sadistic
twist: people choose the hands, which
of the myths of leadership is that
the leader must be seen ahead of the
rest. Politics often turns into nothing
but a mere struggle to stay ahead
of others. True leadership is not
about that. Zhou Enlai of China was
a great leader himself, but he lived
in the shadow of Chairman Mao. He
knew his place and wanted to be where
he belonged. Mahatma Gandhi made Nehru
the Prime Minister of India like Gokhele
made Gandhi the leader of the Indian
leaders can also lead by virtue of
being led. And the greatest amongst
the leaders are also the greatest
amongst the followers. Gandhi followed
the common people of India as he traveled
across the country and lived unostentatiously
like them. Winston Churchill followed
events, first to become the Chancellor
of the Exchequer through a fluke,
and then Prime Minister at the age
of sixty-five through another fluke
after it had been reluctantly decided
not to appoint a Prime Minister from
the House of Lords.
U.S. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey
observed, "To err is human, but
to blame it on someone else is politics."
Leadership comes from the realization
of the first half of that statement.
Politics is the work of the second
half. Leadership rises from the deep
understanding of the human condition.
Politics thrives in the misunderstanding
of it. Leaders converge on people,
politicians diverge from them.
Atlee retired as an earl and died
in 1967. Charles de Gaulle died in
1970 and wished a simple funeral for
himself. He would be buried in his
village in a seventy-two dollar oak
coffin, borne to his grave by his
fellow villagers-a butcher's assistant,
a cheesemaker, and a farmhand. In
the end the soldier proved more politically
correct than the politician, and thus
a better politician.
Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is a banker.