Colombo Telegraph

Cometh The Hour; Cometh The Leader? 

By Tharaka Kodippili

Tharaka Kodippili

This is a follow-up to my previous piece – Self-interest, an Ostrich, & a Sri Lankan. One recurring theme in the comments section throughout that article was the mention of “leadership,” or the lack thereof in Sri Lanka. I made it a point that leadership was hard and that it required a lifetime of work and commitment.

Sri Lanka has a leadership vacuum (more like a black hole in space, to be honest). There is no simple prescribable solution to this Hobson’s choice of elected leaders. History, however, has proved that Sri Lankan voters have been fickle and jarring in their decision-making as the Roman spectators were at the Colosseum.

Ironically, we Sri Lankans find ourselves in a constant pickle when it comes to finding the best suitable candidate to lead our country, let alone in voting for him or her. However, maybe, during that time of examination (of the candidate), it may behoove us as a nation to look at several “leadership attributes” that would distinguish the candidate’s leadership potential.

There are many qualities a leader should possess to lead/govern a nation. Initially, we need a retrospective about the nature of the beast – i.e. Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans.

State of our union 

We are a nation with a long and proud culture and history. Sadly, that rich history has led to deeply rooted cultural-biases and confirmation-biases that prevent us from progressive thinking and in logical decision-making. Resulting in Sri Lankans entombed in a cocoon of xenophobia. Rotting, decaying, and mummifying in a soup of ignorance and malice. Our self-anointed Feng Shui is paid sponsorship via raging social upheaval and religious bickering; propelled with finger-wagging towards the unknown; ripe with fear, and disharmony.

This sort of retrograde rationale- institutionalized within our societies- over several generations, is the reason why we find ourselves constantly stranded at the precipice of chaos. Negativity breeds negativity. If the self-fulfilling prophecy has taught us anything, it is that negative expectations will result in surefire negative outcomes.

A million and one “leadership attributes” differentiates a true leader from the feckless- the type we have in abundance. Taking practicality into consideration (and for starters), I will put forth three important (and basic) attributes. Any potential Sri Lankan leader could learn and perfect (hopefully) these qualities.

Accountability 

This is the most important precept in any leadership training. A leader has to be accountable to his or her fellow citizens and for his/her actions. Being accountable has far-reaching consequences. Both pros and cons. However, being accountable on the right side of good-deeds will mostly lead to actionable, positive outcomes.

Accountability is the Woolly Mammoth of leadership attributes in modern-day Sri Lanka. It roamed the plains of politics in this land a long time ago but has ceased to exist over the course of time. As politicking became a business, its malignant attributes have metastasized throughout our society to debilitating degrees and repercussions. Today’s upper-echelons of leadership in Sri Lanka have lost sight of what accountability is. Moreover, they have willfully forgotten what it once stood for.

An accountable leader is principled- in the premise that he or she works within the parameters of law and order of the nation, he or she serves. Such leaders make sure that groups that follow them intend well for the betterment of the nation, and have no ulterior, self-serving motives. Accountability is taking ownership of a problem with follow up and resolve to see it through.

Situational awareness 

Is to understand your surroundings – take stock of your resources and plan accordingly with the help of common sense. Easier said than done here in Sri Lanka, it seems. Permeating from over half a century of eroded political-leadership, today, Sri Lanka is in dire economic stability. Unlike developed nations, our political leaders lack resources to justify many a decision. Yet, giving petty excuses is an anathema for a leader who practices situational awareness.

As a leader, one has to delegate and manage existing resources. Every large, successful business today- be it local or global- was once a small company, but grew to become a behemoth in its respective industry thanks to its leaders’ capacity to manage their (then) resources, and therefore, maximize output.

Road map (Vision) 

Every leader has to have a road map as to where he/she wants to be at- both personally, as well as for the nation. Short term and long term. It is mandatory to know your true north. If not, one ends up in a Neverland of incompetence and false promises. That is not ideal for progress.

Over the years, we have all come to loathe the quasi “100-day action plans” of newly-minted political leaders, only to see those plans fizzle away into a footnote in history and a constant supply of campaign jokes. Such road maps (action plans) need not limit themselves to mere “campaign propaganda.” A planned out vision should be attainable. Especially, when claimed to be “achieved” in a mere 100-days or less.

Voters should also look at these proposed “road maps” using a lens of objectivity, beyond party-line politics that have so far defined our collective scope of view. A road map is a layout, a sketch, a plan that defines clear touch-points of a leader’s journey while in office.

Above points are some of the elementary, yet critical and practical attributes that would truly define a leader from the largely unqualified we often elect. Obviously, as voters, it is up to us to make the informed decision of “choice” at the ballot box.

However, seven decades into our independence, it is yet to take effect in Sri Lanka. Decades on, we continue the charade of languishing as a “developing nation,” led by miscalculating, harebrained, deity-chasing leaders, and their nincompoop (in)actions.

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