Clem Sunter

When leaders become monsters

2011-04-20 13:34

Textbooks and courses on leadership deal only with the positive aspects which turn a person into a good leader. This article corrects this deficiency by concentrating on the five delusions which turn a leader into a monster. Like booze, they go to the head so that even if a leader starts out being reasonable, he ends up being a monster through absorbing these delusions.

They are as follows:

1. I am always right
This delusion means that you go to war on second-rate intelligence. You reject any facts which contradict your view of what the world should be like. If you are absolutely proved wrong, you merely offer the excuse that you thought you were right at the time and you always do what you think is right. You surround yourself with yes-men. You do not even countenance the presence of a court jester who might serve you up with unpalatable truths coated in humour.

2. I am in total control.
This delusion means that anybody who disputes your control is regarded as an enemy. It starts with intimidation of your political enemies, but is soon followed by secretly gathering an elite group of assassins who take them out. When the public defy you, you send in the army to sort them out. Even if you end up in control of nothing, you are still living in the castle amid the ruins.

3. I am immortal.
This delusion means that you hang on until you actually die and then maybe get embalmed. You feel you are indispensable even when you have long passed your sell-by date. You reject grooming any outside successor because that person could become a threat. The baton has to be passed on to one of your children so that you can rule from the grave.

4. I am the most popular person around.
This delusion arises from gauging your popularity from your followers, many of whom owe their positions and wealth to you. It also arises from the fact that they know this and protect you from the ugly truth. Sometimes the delusion continues until you get a knock on the door in the bunker, at which point you are shocked to be informed that the game is over.

5. My ends justify any means.
This delusion is the most dangerous of them all, because you are prepared to kill millions of people as a result of some warped ideology to which you have become addicted. Human rights are an irrelevance in your pursuit of the great idea.

Why write this article? There are two very important reasons:

1. Never give a leader too much personal power. Always have checks and balances in place in the system and defend those checks and balances to the hilt. That means the judiciary and the media.

2. Realise that the most crucial clause of South Africa’s Constitution is the one that limits a president to two five-year terms. Never ever give that up. Nations can survive delusional leaders providing their term of office is limited by law. As countries in North Africa have shown, leaders who have been in power for too long can become monsters.

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