The End of Leadership – and the New World (Dis)Order

For three years I have argued that patterns of leadership and followership have changed, fundamentally and irrevocably. There is nothing new in this: patterns of leadership and followership have always changed, from one era to the next. But until new systems are in place, people struggle to make sense of what’s happening. They struggle to govern themselves in a manner reasonably orderly.

Change is now everywhere in evidence: nearly no region, no sector, no group or organization is immune to new and foreign forces. Moreover these forces are at every level: at the level of the small group and the large organization, at the national level and at the international level as well.

Consider the newly established Brics’ bank – the bank just set up by the Brics countries, Brazil, Russia, China, India, and South Africa.  On the one hand nations such as Russia, China, and India are not exactly “followers.” But on the other hand they have been in many ways -including in international banking – lesser than, second class citizens in comparison with countries such as Germany and the United States. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), for example, is routinely led by a European, and the World Bank is routinely led by an American. Small wonder both have been slow to recognize that the world is changing, and that less developed countries are no longer so willing to wait for more developed countries to pay them adequate attention.

As David Pilling pointed out in the Financial Times, old, previously existing institutions such as the IMF and World Bank reflect the realities of a receding age. The spanking new Brics Bank is in stark contrast. It reflects the reality of a rapidly changing world – one in which poor countries gradually are closing in on richer ones, and the previously meek increasingly assert themselves against the obviously strong.

The Brics bank constitutes a creative response to the forces of change. Not necessarily so, of course, for example in Libya, the latest example of a state so badly failed, so dismally dangerous  that the U. S. has decided to all but evacuate its embassy in Tripoli.

Strange to say that events like these – global change of great magnitude, imprecisely foretold – reduce even the best and the brightest to platitudes. To wit, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who last week repeated yet again his lament about the lack of good leadership. He closed out his column on Wednesday as follows: “”Keeping Madagascar out of the world of disorder…requires good leadership, and good leaders today – anywhere – are the rarest species of all.” What Friedman fails to appreciate is that the good old days – when good leaders seemed in relative abundance, and good followers seemed glad to go along – are over. Instead, people the world over, no matter their station, are taking matters into their own hands.



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