Leaders put themselves in powerful positions to deal with those they lead but even more to be able to deal with those they don’t. Not all leaders. I know several business heads who are competitive and aspirational but quite content to lead their band of employee’s to earn a reasonable wage and achieve a modest level of comfort and security. Not everyone wants to rule the world.
However, aggressive leaders do. I have seen ‘leadership’ ambitions power perfectly reasonable people into rasping dinosaurs, willing to devour anything that stood in their way. Trump, Putin, Xi, Erdogan are such leaders. For them it is not about the game, only about winning – and they care not about the cost of doing so. As we have seen in the recent past, that price can be fatal.
Some risk is involved in all leadership. You do not lead from the war room but from the front line. A leader cannot always spend time getting a consensus nor explaining his / her strategy and tactics. Great empathy may be desirable to run a balanced life but it is often denied leaders because it slows the rate of progress and holds up essential response to others. Trouble is, what behoves a democracy does not ‘be-heave’ a dictatorship. Dictatorships don’t do empathy.
I once joined a company where the CEO had a glass eye. It was a fine piece of work and you couldn’t distinguish which was the live eye and which, the glass. At least until it was explained to you that it was the glass eye that had the sympathy. I learnt what they meant. Sympathy does not, I imagine, figure high on the list of established attributes of Putin, Trump, Xi, Erdogan, either.
Under Deng Xiaoping, China spread the role of leadership way beyond the Politburo Standing Committee. In a move to promote a communist form of capitalism leaders at local levels were allowed more freedom to decide matters that would hitherto have been centrally dictated. President Xi is breaking down this dispersal of power and collecting it back for himself. The engine of China is capitalism now. To re-centralise may seem disastrous both socially and commercially.
The implications of re-centralising extend beyond commerce. Aggressive states and leaders are tempered by the dispersal of power. It can be damaging if the machinery of decision becomes too unwieldy but it is essential to prevent a catastrophic outbreak of hostilities. In engineering when dependence on one valve becomes too threatening some backup valves are installed to ensure safety. The way China is going there will soon be no backup valves.
Remove from your control-structure those who might oppose you and you end up with sycophants there for the gravy, not the gravitas. The White House please note.
Most worrying is the inevitable consequence of re-centralising in an era when social media encourage the individual to have a very public say. The flow towards transparency, even with all its faults, will meet the surge of power-concentration, with diametrically opposite faults, in a clash that will cost many lives and much blood. It will divide nations, even those apparently committed to democracy as the basis for decision taking. How else is Brexit to be resolved?
The shadow of rearmament hangs over worsening relations between the US and Russia. Tough trade terms appear almost inevitable in the spat between the US and China. Force seems likely in maintaining certain seaways navigable to all. Each of these demands power concentration. You can fight a battle at home or you can fight a battle overseas. It is difficult to do both successfully at the same time. It is dangerous to try in a world with such new and unfamiliar technology.
It is time we set about concentrating our world collective brains for the future.
Not to do so will precipitate the human species into chaos.