Savir's Corner: Leadership in the modern age
Leadership is mostly about courage – civil courage to face constituencies with integrity and honesty, to include them in policy-making.
Using Facebook on the Internet Photo: reuters
With the scientific and information revolutions, the world is changing at an
unprecedented pace. In the past decade, scientific and technological discoveries
and progress have revolutionized economies, health and education systems and
Economies are less run by governments, which have
been sidelined mostly to the roles of regulators, but to a large degree by big
multinational companies on one side and worldwide social protests on the
Scientific breakthroughs, such as laser therapy, gene treatment
and better cancer treatments, have revolutionized health and medical care. Life
expectancy globally has risen from 50 to 70 years in the past half century; in
the most developed countries it is already above 80.
Education has been
democratized and globalized.
Video-based and online education today is
reaching every corner of the globe. Illiteracy has dropped globally in the past
50 years from above 40 percent to less than 15%. There are 260 million
university graduates who are the real engine of the modernized world.
world citizenry in general is more interconnected than before, with a global
Internet penetration rate of 35% and 1 billion people using Facebook as a means
of interpersonal communication.
The information revolution has empowered
individuals and societies who can independently express their identities and
forge value- and interest-driven communities across borders.
being recruited via the Internet – nongovernmental organizations have gained
great power in forming national and international agendas for change to voice
In these processes, governments have become less relevant
and find it more difficult to rule a more educated, empowered and interconnected
Dictators have become a dying species and democratic
leadership is in trouble almost the world over.
And yet government has
not been replaced. It is in charge of life and death issues and, at least
formally, in charge of economic and social policies.
dichotomy of great responsibility on one side and lesser clout and influence on
the other, the whole nature of governance is changing and we must ask ourselves
what the nature of leadership should be in a transforming
Leadership has to adapt to the great changes in the world and to
redefine its role in relation to people and countries, according to new
guidelines of a conceptual and operational nature.
On the conceptual
• Leadership today must recognize the growing empowerment of individuals
and redefine its relationship with the citizen. There must be a more equal
relationship between those who govern and the governed, the equal rights of
citizens must be upheld – people’s lives are sacred and have to be treated with
great respect. Equality between people is a cornerstone of social progress.
Government has to serve people, not dictate to them.
governance is about respect of the single individual who should not be the
victim of power, but the source of it. Government and leadership have to become
• Leadership must adjust to a more globalized world. As much
as the modern leader needs to focus on the individual, he/she also has to open
country and society to global opportunity and be alert to global
Leadership must be cosmopolitan in outlook to understand the
advantages of global markets, social trends, multiculturalism and modern
communication, as well as free movement of people, money, goods and, mainly,
ideas. Today three flags hang over governmental offices: the country’s, the
region’s and the world’s.
• A good leader is a good servant of the
people. Modern leaders do not only get elected every four years but also have to
seek legitimacy daily on social networks.
The people are the sovereign
and they will replace inattentive leaders – just ask Hosni Mubarak.
Modern leadership means to understand what constitutes power today.
not anymore about colonies, occupation of territory or natural resources, war
and war machines.
What makes a country strong is the internal cohesion of
its society, its democratic fiber and institutions, the level of education,
science and technology, free economy and social equality, as well as its place
among the nations. These important elements have to be strengthened by creating
new priorities and getting rid of old, irrelevant assets.
• At the same
time, the leadership of newly acquired power has also to be a moral leadership.
Leadership that puts human equality above all.
superiority syndromes, corruption and violence have no place in a people’s
These dangerous tendencies tend to isolate societies and open them
up to violent conflict. The moral high ground is also the platform for modern
The modern leader therefore has to be sensitive and empathetic to
the individual, be open to reaping opportunities from a changing world, serve a
cause bigger than him/herself and be moral. Also, it would not hurt if modern
leadership included more women and younger people.
On the operational
• Leadership means first and foremost an honest dialogue with the
constituency. People reject today’s politics as a form of egocentric, dishonest
The dialogue with society has to be honest regarding the
situation facing the people and the country and the policies that are needed.
This is also true for decisions that are necessary difficult and unpopular.
Modern democracy is not about focusing on the eventual ballot box, but rather
about seeking ongoing legitimacy, not necessarily popularity.
long-term interests are more important than short-term public opinion polls.
Therefore, leaders today have to respect their public, who are better informed
and more empowered. With this more informed constituency, leaders cannot
dictate, they have to launch an inclusive social process.
When it comes
to social issues, the decision-making process has to be inclusive, and even more
so in the implementation of policies. A new partnership has to be forged between
governments and nongovernmental organizations, which often know the needs of
On economic policies, the private sector on one side and
the trade unions on the other should be consulted and involved in a
The financial capital is with the private
sector and much of the human capital with trade unions. Leaders need to lead
collective policies and create new coalitions and balances.
In all of
these processes, leadership means inclusion and partnership. What is true for
wartime, including the participation of the young, should be true for
• Modern leadership cannot rely anymore on beating the
People will not automatically march to the sound of that
drum. Processes in the world are driven today more by motivation than by the use
of power and territorial assets. Small and poor societies rise up against the
military giants of the world. A balance of motivations needs to be created,
supplementing a balance of power.
Leadership therefore is today very much
about understanding a more connected world – interconnected and interdependent.
National boundaries are of lesser significance. Regional and international
configurations are necessary for economic development, security and peace.
Policy-making in this era is therefore very much about collective diplomacy and
international coalition-building. For socioeconomic policies, regional and
international legitimacy are increasingly important. The leaders of the stronger
links of the international chain need to have empathy for the weaker links, as
weak economies can lead regional economies into crisis; the leaders of the weak
countries have to create partnerships also according to broader international
interest and standards. Interconnectivity demands above all the ability of
leaders to cooperate and consider new partnerships.
The same goes for war
and peace. With the menace not stemming anymore from traditional armies, but
rather from terrorism, ballistic weapons and tools of mass destruction, security
today is collective security. The security of one cannot come on the expense of
the other. The solution to extreme threats must come through collective action
and the use of power as a last resort.
Peace is the ultimate security.
The modern leader has to be a man or a woman of peace. The world is full of
opportunity and without peace it cannot be achieved. A leader must listen to the
desires of the people, and the strongest wish is to live and live well.
Democratic leadership and peace leadership go hand-in-hand.
The road to
achieve these goals is a difficult one and has many obstacles of the old order
and old-fashioned mindsets. Therefore, leadership is mostly about courage – civil
courage to face constituencies with integrity and honesty, to include them in
policy- making, to make the hard and difficult choices and to allow people to
belong to an increasingly interconnected world. This is true the world over –
from Obama in Washington to Zuma in Pretoria.
The leaders of our region
also have to understand that we live in a new era, that if they want their
countries to prosper, they must embrace the global change, greater
democratization, respect for the individual, economic cooperation, social
justice and peaceful coexistence. For that, they need to engage in an honest
dialogue with their people on inclusive policies and make courageous decisions
Israel and its next government are definitely not
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and
served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords. This op-ed was edited
by Barbara Hurwitz.