The Power of Pragmatic Leadership

A leader is a dealer in hope”, said Napoleon Bonaparte.

Interesting, it’s the same Napoleon who also quipped, “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” Would he have been more correct about leaders and the nation in question?

During these difficult hours, hope is what we need, but not without pragmatism.The global pandemic has literally unmasked leaders world over. Their true abilities, characters, vices and virtues have come to fore for the world to see, and I wish to draw the contrast between two of the leaders that matter a whole lot during the present times — Trump and Modi.

The contrast between the two leaders could not have been stark.

If you have not already, please watch the two videos and understand how a difference in approach, in face of imminent dangers, can manifest into very different fates.

In the April 14, 2020, briefing by the US President, he has gone full throttle in exerting his control over the economy, the society and fates of millions of Americans, and perhaps a wider populace. Some of the more disturbing comments follow:

You want me to close down the greatest economy in the history just because a few people got infected with the virus.

We have plans of opening our country, even ahead of schedule.

When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total.

I don’t have to ask the Governors (about the easing of lockdown)

Trump is almost a manifestation of the Madman Theory in the present times. What’s very clear is Trump’s total defiance of reality and his unwillingness to put economy as second to anything, including the lives of his citizens.

Contrast this with the briefing the Indian Prime Minister did on April 14, 2020.

In his fourth address to the nation, in a span of over four weeks, the Prime Minister talks directly about the issue of citizens suffering from lockdown and what measures are taken to ease the problems. He started today’s talk by acknowledging the plight of millions of Indians, empathizing with their hardships, and thanking them for their patience and perseverance during these testing times.

He even proposed a seven point agenda of how to get through the troubled times —

  1. Take care of the elderly, especially those with pre-existing illnesses
  2. Follow social distancing strictly
  3. Improve your immunity by following guidelines issues by AYUSH Ministry,
  4. Download Aarogya Setu app and encourage others to
  5. Help feed the poor
  6. Show compassion for your employees by not terminating them
  7. Respect healthcare workers, police and other front line workers

The one word difference between the two leaders is Compassion.

I reckon that for the very first time the Indian- Americans would be wanting to be in India, desperately so. Because if Trump lifts the lockdown prematurely, against the advise of health officials and several Governors, there’s going to be massive mayhem. However, for Trump, and largely for the Americans who often derive their social value from economic performance, economy always take priority.

Let’s listen to this address by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany.

This is the first time that the Chancellor has made a national televised address , after being elected to the office in 2005, except for her annual New Year’s address to the nation. Her speech is well composed, and here’re a few pointers.

The situation is serious; take it seriously.

Since German unification — no, since the Second World War — there has been no challenge to our nation that has demanded such a degree of common and united action.

For someone like myself, for whom freedom of travel and movement were hard-won rights, such restrictions can only be justified when they are absolutely necessary.

In a democracy, they should not be enacted lightly — and only ever temporarily. But at the moment they are essential in order to save lives.

She hasn’t made any televised statement since March 18, 2020. She has chosen her words wisely and Germany has responded nicely. Here’s the stats of major European countries, including UK, and you would see the impact leadership has on how people respond to a call.

Stats as of 14 April, 2020 from https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

UK has one of the highest mortality rates, along with Belgium, whereas Germany is in one of the best shapes, in spite of having the fifth highest number of cases. Why? It’s to do with discipline.

A paper published in Nature states — Trust, testing, treatment and a quirk of fate have kept Germany’s death rate an order of magnitude lower than those in nearby nations. Can India repeat the feat?

Yes, we can, and I would like to cite three reasons.

  1. India’s continued pragmatism in the face of uncertainty. Because India, unlike the US or most of the west, isn’t on the overdrive of capitalism (yet), we can afford to chose lives over economic growth.
  2. India’s safety net isn’t that strong which keeps the morale hazard at bay. Knowing that our healthcare facilities aren’t the best in the world and relative scarcity of medical staff and equipment, Indians would rather err on the side of caution than treatment. The western world, bloated with a false sense of safety, haven’t taken the advises so seriously.
  3. People, at large, have full trust in the leader. Through the various demonstration of solidarity and responsiveness, Indians have kept their faith in their leader, much like Germans have for over a decade now, and during these times you would not like to second-guess your leader. S/he must be trusted to take you through this.

I only hope that Americans are more careful in choosing their next leader, and not get blindly carried away by the call of Capitalism.

It won’t be completely inappropriate to pick up this statement by one of my favorite economists, Joseph Schumpeter, “Capitalism inevitably and by virtue of the very logic of its civilization creates, educates and subsidizes a vested interest in social unrest.”

Founder and Innovation Evangelist at Inflexion Point Consulting. TEDx speaker. Teacher. Strategy Coach. Creativity Workshops. Executive Education.