“Trust in leadership evaporates within communities when they see that their problems are not adequately addressed, whether at the national level or the international arena,” explained Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Added Canadian Senator Ratna Omidvar: “Leaders have to project an image of shared prosperity. This didn’t happen in the US. There were winners and losers and differences were not bridged. Political leadership is opportunistic, as it has to be because of the election cycle. But I am wondering if we are spiralling into a sense of ‘me first’ and forgetting larger values. Where are we in the common good?”
Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford in the UK, criticized politicians for abdicating their decision-making responsibilities. “What we see in the face of this global backlash are politicians across the world grabbing three easy but toxic tools – anti-globalization, nativism and direct democracy.”
Recourse to a referendum is a way to avoid accountability, she argued. “Referendums we are seeing around the world are a real erosion of elected democracy.”
Leadership training over the past 30 years has often produced leaders who regard themselves as entitled and smarter than the people yet fail to deliver, Woods told participants. “Why do we expect people to trust the leaders we have trained? This has got to change. How do we get governments to do what they need to do?”
“What is happening is a crisis of confidence in institutions,” Gemma Mortensen, Chief Global Officer of Change.org in the US, agreed. “We shouldn’t rely on existing leaders. Platforms like change.org empower ordinary people who are otherwise disenfranchised from the political system. What is happening around the world is disaffection with what people see as the establishment and they think it is not possible to change things.” The despair is especially true in societies torn by war and injustice, Maurer pointed out.
The solution is to get back to basics, said Majid Jafar, Chief Executive Officer of Crescent Petroleum in the United Arab Emirates. “Leadership is about inspiring and motivating other people to perform to their best ability at every level. Leadership at the family and community levels is more important. Everybody has to be practicing it.” Values are critical. “They can be both an anchor and a compass,” he noted. “Sometimes, we need to step back and look beyond what is trendy and politically current.”
“Globalization needs to mean global responsibilities,” Woods declared. Absolutely crucial for successful leadership is empathy, she observed. “There is a real risk that instead of increasing empathy, we have the means at our disposal to be only interacting with people like us who share our views. We have to keep working on that. It is a danger because of the way people are using technology.” Ensuring diversity in leadership should be another objective. “You wouldn’t expect to win a football tournament with a team full of goalkeepers,” Woods underlined.