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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor Emeritus of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.

The agony of leadership

Tue, 02 Jun 2015 17:09:00 +0000 Published in Expansion

Never has there been so much talk about leadership as today, and never has there been such a lack of authentic leaders, especially in the field of politics. We no longer find leaders with the intellectual and moral stature of Konrad Adenauer, Golda Meir or Winston Churchill. Too often, anyone who has power is called a leader, regardless of how he or she has achieved it and how he or she uses it. The recent elections in May in Spain confirm a decline of leadership that began in Europe a century ago, with the social crisis of values of postmodernism. In it, the consistent is replaced by the banal. One of its "achievements" would be the emergence of the light or provisional man. Postmodernism is a decadent culture that provokes in man the loss of convictions and distrust in reason. This explains why most people no longer vote "for", rationally choosing a particular ideology, but "against", emotionally venting their frustrations.

With postmodernism, the "welfare society" aspired to replace the "society of the good being. The "good life", in accordance with virtue, was postponed in favor of the "good life". The latter was attributed nothing less than happiness, a happiness that could be bought and sold. The inversion of values imbued society with pragmatism; in this society the supreme or only value would be the useful. It was considered that if something is valuable and good, it is only in what it is useful. From the pragmatic or utilitarian mentality, the only important thing is to achieve practical results and satisfy material needs. Such an approach would stifle the great ideals.

From a decadent culture one could only expect a decadent leadership culture, which is still in force today. In the absence of a stable vision of values and personal convictions that would serve as reference letter to the governed, leaders adapt their message to what the polls announce on each occasion. This lack of coherence was not so frequent in the past: Drucker points out that the leaders he observed underwent the "mirrortest ", a self-assessment with which they checked whether the person they saw in the mirror in the morning was the class person they wanted to be. In this way they fortified themselves against one of the greatest temptations for leaders: to do what meets with general approval rather than what is right.

One of those leaders who evaluated himself in the mirror was Winston Churchill. In May 1940 Europe was still retreating in the face of the unstoppable German advance and England was exposed to having to defend itself without financial aid on its island. If at that time King George VI had commissioned a light (transactional) leader to form a government and become Minister of Defense, Germany would have taken over the continent. Fortunately the chosen one was Churchill, who addressed all the people from the House of Commons to instill courage in the struggle and faith in victory with these well-known words:

"I have nothing to offer except blood, sweat, toil and tears (...) You ask me: what is our policy? I will tell you: it is to wage war by air, sea and land with all our power and with all the strength that God can give us. What is our goal? I can answer with a single word: victory at any cost, however arduous and long the road may be, because without victory there is no survival".

With the country badly repaired for the war, both materially and psychologically, Churchill was able to present the resistance of the army and the people to the Nazi invasion as an illusionary challenge . He won the confidence of his compatriots and persuaded them that survival was possible. With his magnetism staff he got them to accept the challenge, to maintain high morale until the end of the siege and not to lose faith in victory.

Authentic leadership is not recognized simply by the mobilization of the masses and the attainment of many followers; this characteristic is also found in autocratic leadership, which limits itself to ordering and demanding obedience. On the other hand, participation is characteristic of democratic leadership. It should be specified that participation is not an end in itself, but a means to seek the common good. The ultimate pursued goal must possess a moral superiority. The leader is expected to transmit his commitment to act according to values and to do so with the necessary courage not to back down in the face of difficulties.