‘Bribery, Blackmail, Threat And Punishment’: Leadership For Today And Tomorrow – OpEd

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There’s a new trending leadership both in my own country as well as in some others. Not ‘new’ as in original, but new as in being fashionable. It’s been there for decades but is much more conspicuous now than earlier. This is a bit like the corporate style leadership, where the top boss plays by his own rules, and basically has no emotion invested in those who work for the company. They either stay or go depending on the extent to which they live up to the expectations that revolve around the rules. I don’t think corporate leadership is ever flexible in that sense. You’ve to conform in every sense of the term: you cannot believe that your time is your own. You cannot believe either that there are more important things in life than just your job. Income-slavery is your freedom. Freedom is your ability to keep the job no matter what you’ve to do in the process. Leadership is about squeezing the vulnerable parts of the employees to ensure that they submit without questions, while giving them motivational talks on how to accept what is given to you with a wholesome smile.

Whether institutions or organizations, everywhere you need leadership; but, mostly mechanical leaders, in other words, leaders who fill standardized positions. There is little or no creativity expected of the mechanical leader except that he or she internalizes the organization’s agenda and delivers on promises related to fixed targets. This has led to a serious drought of organic leaders. I see most people in high positions, CEOs of companies and heads of institutions who talk to their audiences in the simplistic way that teachers talk to primary school kids. The demands of political correctness make it almost impossible for anyone to speak spontaneously and share their perceptions about the world. Modern-day leadership is tuned to making risk-free statements and living risk-free lives, having risk-free holidays, going through risk-free schedules, risk-free affairs, risk-free families, risk-free friendships, risk-free aging and of course risk-free dying, if that were possible. These risk-free leaders of today are an outcome of a deeply repressive political system that enables them to thrive because they do absolutely nothing to disturb the status quo.

How do morally anemic leaders function in their attempts to create risk-free work environments? Very simple: a system is devised wherein you use bribery, blackmail, threat and punishment as instruments of control. In any system a large number of people are bribed to isolate those who might be a potential threat to the system. The potential threats are not difficult to suppress either. You need to dig deep enough and find some dirt that you could use to blackmail them into submission. In case you don’t find anything you invent dirt and run a smear campaign. Usually these campaigns are extremely successful if you know the art of making assumptions look like facts. Once the blackmail part fails, you resort to blatant threats. Last but not the least, when an individual does not submit to bribery, blackmail or threat, you just initiate a process and punish them. The ideal leader of today and tomorrow is someone who has mastered the art of bribery, blackmail, threat and punishment.

Governments which imitate the corporate style of governance are selecting these kinds of risk-free leaders at various levels. Risk-free leaders who conform to agendas of political parties play the role of henchmen in return for a fee. When we are looking at governments, what we are seeing are not individuals who owe their loyalty to the masses that have put them in positions of power, but administrators and politicians who cling to power through whatever means available. The freedom from risk is both for the person with power and for the person directly working in the shadow of the powerful. For everyone else, the risk is evident if they don’t wish to toe the official line one way or the other.

The ‘bribery, blackmail, threat and punishment’ model of leadership is the reality of normal, working life. These leaders could never be organic leaders but even if they were, they’ve happily betrayed the masses, having treacherously used them for their private ends. Academic institutions were relatively freer of these kinds of perfidious leaders. But if the voice of experience is any indication, they’ve managed to infiltrate every arena of social, political and legal life. Schools, colleges, universities, public offices, corporations, administrative departments and courts of law, everywhere, the leaders have accepted the BBTP style of functioning because it means you stay safe and somebody pays the price for your safety. A democratically run institution is by definition accountable and inclusive. It is the undemocratic ones which are not answerable to anyone, that need to rely on abuse, manipulation and brute force to achieve their ends.

Thus, we’ve institutions and organizations that are caught up in their risk-free worlds, completely detached from the day-to-day issues of common people. Corrupt and mediocre leaders who achieve power through backdoor means are contemptuous towards anyone who walks through the front door. Mediocrity and thinking in formulas has become the new normal. The leadership here is a combination of authoritarian elements from feudalism with the worst excesses of capitalism. That’s what is happening in most countries of the world, more evidently, in countries like India because people make Faustian deals at various levels to save their skins. Sometimes it might be hard to blame them because the reality of the outside world can be pretty harsh. But, of course, there is no excuse good enough for rendering support to that kind of moral debauchery. I am sure that similar excuses were generously provided by the German middle classes who supported Nazism, not because they approved of everything that the Nazis were doing, but that they did not want to come out of their risk-free environments and get into trouble with authorities. The results of their actions constitute one of the most devastating wars and genocides in history.

That is the scary part with this new kind of leadership that thrives on using power only in order that it may strengthen the status quo while disempowering the common people, leaving them no choice but to conform to the system in the worst ways imaginable. This kind of leadership which tends to operate at the local levels with a fair degree of invisibility, relies heavily on propaganda and the willing slavery of the majority. Once lawless behavior is normalized under the guise of producing results, society is in peril. Lies become a common facet of personal and social relationships.  There might be no risks involved in living a lie once you’re used to it, but what every reformed alcoholic and drug-addict will tell you in no uncertain terms, is the terrible damage keeps happening to your body and mind, while you go on drugging yourself into the belief that you need the lie to escape from reality.

I know a lot of people who stay attached to lies because they’ve no other way of being themselves. Lies become who they are after a point in time. They believe that the lie helps to keep their families and themselves protected. Sadly, just as nobody can escape the sun, there is no running away from the truth either. One way or the other, you’re bound to face the truth in the shallow attachments at home, in the absence of people you can trust in a crisis, in your empty personal life or in the mirror on the wall that reveals a sick, aging person who must leave the world without any traces of having ever walked on this planet.

Prakash Kona

Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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