Leadership is a virtue that has the potential to transform a probable failure into a definite success. Some believe that leadership is an inherent quality while others assert that it can be inculcated with practice. Sometimes, though very rarely, a hopeless situation can act as a stimulus and give rise to a leader. In these dire straits someone unexpected may rise above the ordinary and pull out an entire civilization from the clutches of abysmal darkness. However, leadership, irrespective of the means, revolves around pillars of vision, motivation, determination and effective execution. In addition to these broader attributes, a great leader is also expected to be assiduous, equanimous, enthusiastic, exemplary, perspicacious, selfless and meticulous. In the absence of any of these attributes no leader can be deemed great.
In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own fashion.” Well, we can say the same about good leaders, for they share the common traits. These traits may be an inherent part of their personality or can be perfected with practice. The 20th century witnessed some highly inspirational leaders like Tagore, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Churchill, and Roosevelt, who used their vision to shape our society and save the world from utter annihilation. Today, we have spiritual leaders like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the yoga guru Swami Ramdev, who rely on a blend of charisma and good PR skills while projecting their social images. The high profile status has helped Swami Ramdev Baba to gain a cult status not only among the people of India but also globally.
It must be said that the politicians, of all people, thrive on these leadership traits and use them to perpetuate their sway on the masses. In the contemporary scenario, the word ‘great’ has earned a connotation of ‘flashy’, as substance has given way to style while opportunism has become the need of the time. The same applies to the contemporary leaders of the world. In stead of relying on their vision and inner resolve, they thrive on the doctored publicity aimed at building up a good media image. The dominance of media is such these days that good PR skills can easily create a façade of charisma for the political leaders. The inherent charisma of the ‘Lincolns’, the ‘Gandhis’, the ‘Wilsons’, the ‘Hitlers’, and the ‘Roosevelts’ of the world has given way to gimmicks and propagandas adopted by the modern-day political parties. Alas, the resources that should have been utilized for nation-building activities are squandered on fabricating fancy images for the political parties and their pseudo-charismatic mascots!
Since the leaders of today lack the charisma and intellect of a true leader, they often rely on the charm of celebrities from the world of sports, cinema and TV to fill the gaps. These celebrities are paid lofty amounts just to accompany these leaders at various political gatherings and hustings. This also helps the political parties in building a strong brand for themselves. Branding is closely related to the instinctive feelings. Consumers choose products based on what appeals to their lifestyle, needs and status in the society. Branding ensures that a product or service is projected effectively to the customer with emphasis on its distinct identity. Similarly, a political brand’s prime focus is on the citizens—the potential voters. The present dynamic scenario has given rise to a new political landscape which is highly nebulous and complex. This complexity has rendered the organization of information indispensable, which can so well be taken care of by branding. So how can branding cater to the needs of a political organization? It solely depends on the establishment of an effective political brand that people can easily understand and relate to.
In the contemporary global scenario, Public relations play a vital role in branding. In fact, presence of a good PR is vital to an entity’s successful existence. A slightly shoddy approach can shift the balance and turn out to be extremely counter-productive. The BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee did a decent job during its tenure, but the India Shining campaign adopted by the party’s think tank turned out to be absolutely suicidal. A slight lack of judgment on the party’s part caused them another term, and since then the party has struggled to regain its lost ground. One can say exactly the opposite in case of Rahul Gandhi and UPA. The presence of an effective PR has contributed immensely to Rahul Gandhi’s image. An effective PR can also render politicians charismatic even in the absence of an innate charisma that one seldom associates with contemporary politicians.
In the political parlance of the west, branding’s success lies in effectively communicating who one truly is, and what one believes in a transparent and focused way. It is not about creating a façade to hide one’s true identity. What made Obama and his election campaign so successful? His popularity emerged from his ostensible integrity and progressive thinking vis-à-vis other politicians who tried too hard to pretend to be someone else. Obama’s election campaign turned out to be so successful that Business Week stated, “When the book is written on this election, it should not be titled ‘The Making of a President,’ but ‘The Marketing of a President.’ Barack Obama’s campaign is a case study in marketing excellence. ”
The pervasive dynamism in the environment has made political evolution equally dependent on perception as on reality. While focusing on building their brand and image, the politicians must project their point of view with candor and articulacy. If politicians let go of their contrivance and remain true in their intent and resolve, we may also see a paradigm shift in voting trends, thereby leading to a better representation of democracy, globally. For one must realize that the divide between leadership and citizenship is ought to narrow down quite drastically in the times to come.