Thought for the Day - Professor Mona Siddiqui

What makes a good leader? A sense of vision, integrity, purpose or perhaps its something even more fundamental than that – the ability and will to understand the mood and wishes of those around you, to listen as well as be heard. If the current conflicts in the various countries of the Middle –East tell us anything, it is that leadership, whether democratic, autocratic or dictatorial is failing; people want to be heard and they are not afraid of speaking up, even dying for a new moral order and the politicians of the old systems are terrified of finding that the new reality does not include them.

But while much of the Middle –East expresses itself in uprisings and violent protests closer to home we have a different kind of reaction to unpopular leaders. Voters in Italy have expressed their dissent and anger in the recent ballot for a referendum against Silvio Berlusconi’s government. As one Italian journalist put it the Italians have spoken on the government’s most controversial policies, no to an undemocratic law that placed the prime-minister above the law and prevented him from ever coming to trial, no to water privatisation and no to nuclear energy. And a few weeks ago as part of his desperation to hold onto Milan, Berlusconi even said that if the leftist candidate won, Milan would be a town besieged by foreigners, a gypsyville of roma camps, a Muslim town. I’m not sure which group felt more insulted with these comparisons but it certainly didn’t scare the public into voting for him.

Mr Berlusconi has dominated Italian politics and public life for over 15 years, for some a joke, for some an inspiration. Whatever he may or may not have achieved in Italy, perhaps in the end all leaders become delusional, almost caricatures of their initial glory. There is nothing wrong in desiring wealth, power and fame but when personal and material accolade eclipses your sense of duty to your people, then you are no longer a true leader. As Abraham Lincoln said, `Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.’

But power has the potential to corrupt not just political leaders but all of us whatever our position in life. We all have those moments in our lives when we know that a sense of power, however limited can be used wrongly rather than justly, in revenge rather than in forgiveness, in contempt rather in compassion. I think that being a leader in all its manifestations is like having a trust from God as the Qur’an says, ` behold everyone of you is a leader and you shall be asked about those whom you lead.’ Whether leadership becomes depraved and farcical, ennobling and inspirational, it is its very accountability which demands that it must always remain a little humbling.

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