I've attended many lectures on the subject of leadership. Almost all of them agree that the age of inspirational personal leadership has passed. War chiefs who directed their armies from the front, like Alexander, are said to have no place in our sophisticated modern age. The ideal leader today, according to the concensus amongst those con-men who choose to make a living delivering leadership seminars, is a kind of mongrel hybrid of technocrat and wetnurse.
I'm pretty certain that the current state of the western world gives this egregious quackery the lie. Inspirational leadership is more important than ever. In a world where the 'ruling class' has devolved into an insipid milieu of oddballs and eccentrics with no qualifications beyond political longevity, it's little wonder that even ersatz personalities like Trump can be seen as filling a yawning charisma gap at the top.
Regardless of what the ageing hipsters with their Venn Diagrams and anecdotal thought bubbles might have to say, the simple fact of the matter is that nobody can really get enthusiastic about following a 'competent manager'. Male or female, short, fat, thin, beautiful or hideous, what a leader needs to be is charismatic, inspiring, or both. There is no other way for an individual to push through a comprehensive agenda for the corporate good - only charisma and inspiration survive the necessary unpopular decisions and measures good leadership entails.
The Battle of Maldon is a fragmentary epic which may or may not describe a real battle under the reign of Aethelred the Unredy. I am neither qualified nor inclined to enter into the scholarly debates on the battle's date, location or participants, but what we have of the poem outlines a vision of leadership and, more importantly, of the kind of followership it inspired, that has become sadly alien in the modern world.
"Spirits must be the harder, hearts the keener, courage the greater, as our strength grows less.Such were the words said by a follower of the towering Earl Byrthnoth, an old man with a shock of white hair who, when presented with the opportunity to buy off the attack of a superior enemy, offered 'spears for your tribute, poison points and ancient swords', insisting that no marauder would so easily win his people's gold while he lived to protect their land.
Here lies our lord all hacked to pieces, a good man in the dust.
He will mourn evermore who thinks to turn back from this war-play now.
I’m an old man; I will not leave, but by the side of my lord – by such a beloved man – I intend to lie."
It's easy to dismiss this as a piece of doomed foolhardiness from a forgotten age, and it's the tendency of leadership shonkies to do so. But I don't think we should. A good mental exercise would be to replace Byrthnoth with any one of our current leaders, and the speaker with ourselves. Unless you're very fortunate, the exercise will prove ludicrous - there really isn't any leadership worth that kind of devotion commonly existing in the world today.
Pollsters, pundits and other experts talk about 'trust deficits' and 'populism', but I think it's all much simpler than that. The idea that we are led by people who strive to be better than themselves, and who are willing to commit absolutely to right principles, is dead. And the sole reason it is dead is because we have somehow convinced ourselves that neither our current nor our future leaders need be held to this simple and essential standard. The tragedy of this is that, included in the pool of potential 'future leaders', is every single one of us.