In a piece published yesterday titled “The Leaderless Doctrine,” New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote in part the following:
“The Cold War was a competition between clearly defined nation-states.
Commanding American leaders created a liberal international order. They preserved that order with fleets that roamed the seas, armies stationed around the world and diplomatic skill.
Over the ensuing decades, that faith in big units has eroded – in all spheres of life. Management hierarchies have been flattened. Today people are more likely to believe that history is driven by people gathering in the squares and not from the top down. The liberal order is not a single system organized and defended by American military strength; it’s a spontaneous network of direct people-to-people contacts, flowing along the arteries of the Internet.
The real power in the world is not military or political. It is the power of individuals to withdraw their consent.”
Brooks was echoing an argument I made two years ago, in my book, The End of Leadership.
What’s even clearer to me now though than it was then, is that what best characterizes the world in the second decade of the 21st century is what I will from here on in refer to as the “leadership gap.”
Here’s what I mean. The end of leadership, or the leaderless doctrine, best applies to institutions and systems that generally adhere to principles of democratic governance. Those institutions and systems that are less linked to these principles, not to speak of those that dismiss them altogether, are not similarly characterized by the end of leadership, or by being leaderless.
However…by and large these latter groups and organizations are led by leaders who in my simple parlance are “bad.” They are autocratic, tyrannical, or even “evil.”* They are not in any case, by any definition, democratic.
This gap – between leadership in democracies on the one hand and leadership in autocracies on the other – is nowhere so blatantly in evidence as it is in the contrast between Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. Again, I refer here not to the men themselves, but to the situations in which they find themselves. One is, you might say, victimized by the context of leaderless-ness within which he perforce operates. The other enjoys, you might say, free rein. Of Putin it’s fair to say that he is a “bad” leader. But he is bad as measured by his ethics, not by his effectiveness. Of Obama you might conclude that he is ineffective; but there is no evidence whatsoever that during his presidency he has been in any way unethical. This difference between the two men is emblematic of the leadership gap that has increasing implications for, among many other things, international relations.
*See my book Bad Leadership for my definition of “evil leadership.”