Shooting Fish in a Barrel

In the old days – say two, three, four years ago – I used to feel I had to prove my point. I used to feel I had to make a case for the proposition that the world was changing. That leaders were getting weaker and that followers – others – were getting stronger.

Now it’s rather like shooting fish in a barrel. Now it’s so screamingly obvious that leaders are lesser than they used to be, it would seem the case was closed.

This is not of course to say that leaders are irrelevant or unimportant. It’s obvious that leaders still matter. Just this week a potentially historic arms control agreement was reached between the leaders of Iran and the leaders of the world’s major powers, an understanding that would have been impossible to broker without the men at the helm.

However, leaders in both Iran and the United States remain vulnerable between now and the end of June to having the deal undone by a host of emboldened opponents, who want nothing so much as to unravel the accord their leaders laboriously stitched together.

Moreover the furor that engulfed the governors of Indiana and Arkansas in the last week, and then forced them both immediately to backtrack while simultaneously eating crow, was a reminder that if you happen to pit leaders against followers on an issue about which the latter feel fervently, the former likely will lose.

Nor are the pressures confined to leaders in government – a truism to which Lufthansa’s CEO Carsten Spohr could be the first to testify. He was too quick to claim in the aftermath of that Germanwings (a Lufthansa subsidiary) crash in the Alps that the pilot and co-pilot were “100% airworthy.” Only a few days later did we learn that years ago were signs the co-pilot was anything other than 100 % airworthy, and that, in fact, it was he who was solely responsible for the crash that claimed the lives of the 150 people on board the ill-fated airliner.

It’s not clear that Spohr will ultimately be forced out as a result of this tragedy. But the attacks on him personally and professionally must be making his life miserable. Fairly or unfairly Spohr is being held to account for what would appear to be mismanagement at lower levels of the organization long before he even became chief executive officer. A German newspaper based in Dusseldorf, where the plane was headed, was typical – it minced no words. It said that Lufthansa’s admission that it had known of the co-pilot’s mental health problems was a “helpless attempt to prevent company chief Carsten Spohr, with his fatal words ‘100 percent flightworthy’” from appearing “as a liar ripe for resignation.”

The benefits of being a leader can clearly be many. But, just as clearly, so now can be the costs. Leaders have become fat targets for followers bent on venting their frustrations.


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