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On Leadership: what it means to “rule well”

Reading time: 6 minutes

As evolved human beings that successfully managed to organize themselves in civil societies under structured governments, the notion of being ruled by a skilled authority has always constituted an important matter under examination. More often than not, we have looked at our politicians with many unanswered questions behind our eyes, wondering what makes them successful or not. Some of us criticise them, others praise them. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to the question: how can someone rule well? What does it mean, indeed, to be a leader?

Oxford English Dictionary defines a leader as the person “who leads a group of people”, and thus implies that decision – making, risk – taking, meandering and coordinating are some of the required properties. Yet, shortly after taking a look at daily news headlines, we easily come to the conclusion that a leader, a true and competent one, is much more than descriptive adjectives enlisting preferred properties.

Referring to case studies might paint an easily visualised picture. And now, more than ever, is the time when such figures emerge, serving as symbols of correct decision – making and successful policy implementation.

When researching “inspiring leaders” on the internet, we stumble upon well – established names that stand out for their involvement in politics, for great discoveries that changed the course of humanity, for their contribution in the resolution of financial crises that could have led to the collapse of huge economic systems and much more. Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela are the most noticeable in the long list of names that appears. One cannot help but wonder whether the property of being a leader is a rare finding, an infrequent occurrence, in our world of tangled politics and continuous international crises that can spiral out of control.

The aforementioned cast of characters, along with other noticeable ones, made ground – breaking progress in the evolution of our societies. Either for their work towards the advocacy of human rights, their effort to achieve justice and equality or their rhetoric in favour of revolutionary ideologies, they have acquired central positions in the foundations of our social systems. More often than not, we use them as exemplary paradigms of capable policy – making and inspirational handling of crucial time periods. They occupy central positions in our walls of fame and represent determination, passion and confidence.

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Yet, if we zoom out of this historically – painted image, we will joyfully realize that our world consists of very capable leaders, across all sectors of social developments. A leader doesn’t necessarily have to be a decision -making person. Such figures have sometimes been referred to as influencers, other times as role – models and others as icons. Their essence is the same, however: they are distinguished from the massive crowd of similar persons due to their energy, skills, determination and vision.

Plainly listing these names will do little justice to the true substance of these young, promising leaders. Among them, one stumbles across the well – established Malala Yousafzai, the recently surfaced Sanna Marin, the fearless Emma Gonzalez and powerful Megan Rapinoe. The list is never ending, with many promising personalities attempting to achieve global change.

This makes any reader quickly realise that leadership encompasses a wide variety of skills, abilities, passions, desires. It is so much more than simply effective policy making and resource organization. You might think that, yes, this is true, but our world has so far met only few of such leading personalities and is likely to meet even fewer in the coming years.

As a humble author of this opinion piece, I beg to disagree.

In the last five years, our societies have been experiencing massive waves of change. Fundamental, profound change, aimed at altering the entire existence and essence of our societies and upturning their long – outdated foundations. Based on principles of democracy, equality, justice, respect, understanding and love, inspiring figures emerge and promise progress, change, hope. Because this is what leaders do, right?

As humanity, we seem to have lost hope. Not only in the development of a better future and the existence of more prosperous opportunities for us and the next generations, but generally in the role and purpose of our leaders. Political candidates propose much – needed political and monetary policies, but lack the “spark” that makes their citizens look up to them and dream. For many, the notion of ‘ruling well” has unfortunately become diluted.

This raises the need for a better, more skilled ruling class, whose representatives will be drawn out from every section of society and thus effectively combining a wide variety of knowledge and expertise. This doesn’t mean that everyone ought to be a member of this group, simply that everyone should be given the opportunity to do so. Recent societies move at a rapidly evolving pace, dictated only by the number of crises that erupt and the technological developments threatening to engulf us whole. And the need for leaders that can respond to these changes become more imminent than ever.

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If you find this article too theoretical up to this point, you are right. But such politicians and personalities exist and the following part is dedicated to them.

Our exploration begins with a recently appointed politician, just seven months in office. Greece’s Kyriakos Mitsotakis is a figure to behold, a personality to pay attention to. In July, Greece changed its political course (again), and has been since following a right – wing path, with policies closely related to the protection of national security, businesses and entrepreneurs, the support of the youth and the steady eradication of unemployment. Internationally known for his determined response to the Greco – Turkish crisis, the resolution of Greece’s financial instability, the appointment of the first female President, Ms Sakellaropoulou, and the early action against the COVID-19 outbreak, Mr Mitsotakis proves to be a promising figure. This doesn’t imply that he comes without flaws, but rather it paints a picture of a political figure necessary to Greek politics and able to revive much – needed and recently – lost faith in the country from which democracy originates.

Stepping across a whole continent, one can’t fail to notice Ethiopia’s Sahle-Work Zewde, the first woman to hold the office in a continuously evolving society. The landlocked African country had managed great leaps towards democracy, gender equality and general progress all due to the revolutionary election of a female President, that sparked hope across the continent. An advocate of female equality and empowerment, she symbolises the beginning of a cascade of reactions that are set to change the current social standing of, not only Ethiopia, but rather the whole African region.

Travelling few miles away from Africa’s heart, we find ourselves in Israel. Focusing on one more noble art, the art of writing, one realises that Yuval Noah Harari’s writings are more than contemporary, encapsulating our societies exactly the way they are and painting an accurate description of the way the world will look like in few decades. As an historian, he reflects the value of humanity’s past in his work and unravels ideas that have become dominant in the emerging schools of thought. The best-selling author owes his success to his pragmatism and the combination of historical facts with accurate anthropological interpretations. This distinguishes him from the mass and labels him as a leader in his field.

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Our last stop on the map will be New Zealand. Though not frequently mentioned in the news and subtly concealed from the media’s swarming attention, Jacinda Ardern has magnetized the international media and has won the hearts of not only New Zealanders, but people from every part of the world as well. She became well – known for her decisive action in favour of gun control after the Christchurch mosque shooting in March 2019 and has initiated a wave of optimism and hope in the general political sphere. In the face of fear, division, racism, inequality and hatred, this mother, politician and woman stood up for hope, unity and inclusiveness in a very decisive fashion. She achieved within hours what others have been unsuccessfully attempting for decades, and this swiftness and effectiveness inspires young girls, boys and the coming generations.

It becomes clear, therefore, that painting the image of a capable leader is a challenging task, especially in the recent age of continuous, unstoppable developments that come crashing like waves and igniting turbulence. Strong, fearless, unyielding: these are words that pop to mind when asked how a good ruler should be. But is it just that? Because the examples just mentioned sure are much more than that. They are compassionate, understanding, open – minded, hopeful and optimistic. They recognize the dangers and admit to their mistakes. And maybe, just maybe, this is exactly what we need.

Good leadership will be the salvation to many unresolved international crises that stem from indecisiveness, lack of clarity and mismanagement. Maybe now is the time to rethink about what we value in our politicians and regain the lost hope in those that govern us. Societies have been created by us, for us. It’s high time, therefore, we restructure them and pour our hopes and dreams in the positions of those that are tasked with coordinating them, from whichever place they occupy.

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