Leadership And Democracy

A leader’s duty is to lead, to guide, to provide directions and confidence to those he leads. One can’t lead if he himself has no confidence and is a doubter. Firmness is important in a leader. That firmness comes not only from his natural (inherited or inborn) traits, but also from the belief, knowledge, and vision that he has built, acquired, made an integral part of his being.

A leader is a well-rounded person: a person who stands out in the crowd without having to shout and tout himself. His words and actions exude confidence and can provide directions to those who need them. He is not easily swayed by popular whims because he stands on a solid rock of principles and vision, not on a shaky ground of popularity. He listens to others to understand but does not necessarily base his decisions on the wishes of those have voiced their concerns. He absorbs what others have to say, then filters and processes them with the belief, knowledge, and vision he has, so that his decisions are not merely a flush of the torrent of popular demands that have gone through him, but a refined essence of what is needed to confront and solve problems and move the group he is leading to right directions, to the goals they want to achieve together.

It is very sad that in the current state of our democracy, such a leader is very rare and difficult to find. We have plenty of nominal leaders or those personae who pretend and purport to be leaders. These fake leaders do not lead, guide, and provide directions and confidence to those who look up to them for leadership. That is because they have become ‘leaders’ out of a trade. They are nothing more than a commodity, touted like other wares offered and sold at the market. Substance is thin. And make up is thick and often of the lowest of taste. Their only goal is to sell themselves and to gain popular supports, which — as some of us know — can translate into power, privileges, money, and profits.

Yes, sometimes we do find good stuff in the market. But they are not necessarily popular, let alone the most popular. In a market where profits are the ultimate goal, silent good things are often ignored and outclassed by the lesser things that are heavily touted, advertised, powdered and lipsticked, and dressed in such a way to win the popular attention.

Image-making in a large scale, as we all know, is expensive. The making of a popular leader is therefore also expensive. Nobody except those who are well-to-do can afford it. And those who can do not always want to do it for altruistic reasons. They too — most probably — are eyeing for the benefits, the profits, and all the privileges that come with power. For these people, their bid for leadership is nothing more than just an investment with an expected bounty of returns and minimal risks of loss. Again, the logic is that of a commodity trade.

In this system and practice, the people — who are supposedly the ultimate power holder (from the people, by the people, and for the people) — are just a nominal mass with no real power; only a market that can be manipulated by those who have the real power: those with money.

In this game, the people benefit only a little: whatever is left over from what has been chewed and digested by those who have made their investment in power and their interests.

Real leaders are difficult to come by in a democracy. That’s because popularity is at the heart of the game. A true leader is not necessarily popular, nor is a popular person is necessarily a leader. Quality of leadership may at the surface be the concern of democracy — those who are known, by popular recognition, to be good should be good and worthy as a leader. However, popular recognition is not an immune standard; popular minds are not a solid measure against which truth can always rely itself upon. They can be held sway by the winds of change. They can be manipulated by interest groups. And since the engineering of popular opinions on a large scale is very costly, it is most likely that only those who can pay for it can win. Unfortunately, they are not always benevolent and altruistic persons or groups of persons who care for the good of the public at large.

Eki Akhwan,
The Indonesian National Awakening Day, 20 May 2012


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