Tony Soprana, in the hit television series ‘The Sopranos’ famously said, “I’m the motherfuckin’ fuckin’ one who calls the shots!”.
While I don’t condone the vulgarity, it’s a sign of our times that very few of our leaders are able to say the same. There used to be a time when being a leader means you have absolute powers to make decisions. And everyone else are expected to follow them. Today, with the internet, social media and a new anti-establishment mindset, few, if any could call the shots in anything. The only exceptions would be in absolute autocracies such as many of the hereditary kingdoms of the Middle East and certain despotic regimes. Even in these countries, the leaders no longer have free-hand in making decisions. Every decree is now debated, if not in public than at least in private. And the threat of being overthrown is more real than ever.
The culture of decisions by committee have spread from their origins in companies and town councils to national and global governance. Some may argue that putting the authorities in several people’s hands are better than in one – after all, the maxim that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely – remains very true.
However, we need to draw a line between gettiing the necessary opinions to making the right decision to making that decision itself. Some of the world’s greatest inventions and buildings – from the Great Wall of China and the penicilin to the light bulb and landing on the moon – aren’t the results of committees at work. Getting them done, yes, are not a single person – but the decision, the courage and the vision to see those through are often that of one person.
What’s clearly and sorely missing in the world today, is strong leadership. While we can point to the Caesars, Napoleons and Churchill of the past – we would be hard pressed to name one global leader today who’s not just a strong leader, but a unifying force.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister recent remarks that Malaysia will end up like the Brazilian team (who was whitewashed 7-1 by Germany, in case you didn’t know) without strong leadership was met with much scorn and ridicule on the cyber space, including a biting remark from predecessor Mahathir Mohamed. In Singapore, many who have lived during the Lee Kuan Yew era, quietly laments the difference and perceived weaknesses of his son and current PM Lee Hsien Loong.
As the world gets more polarised by the day, and our own society more divisive than ever – the need for a strong leader is more real than ever.