Leadership has acquired interesting dimensions in this era of post-truth where public opinions are shaped more by subjective perceptions than by objective realities.
The Oxford dictionary defines post-truth as an adjective ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
In this brave new world the distinction between truth and falsehood often gets blurred; between black and white there are ample shades of gray.
Thus, we find leaders making assertions, which are not absolute truths, but too benign to be termed lies either. Brexit and the US elections 2016 are burning examples of alternative facts impacting the masses and shaping the future of nations.
Factors like the extensive reach of social media, 24*7 television and emergence of various advocacy groups, are creating a situation where opinions are served as facts and facts are distorted to suit one’s own arguments.
Leadership cannot be taken out of the context in which it operates.
Therefore, leaders of today have to take cognizance of the new realities staring at them. In modern democracies, governance is as much about rules & regulations as about public perception & political correctness. The killing of a black citizen by the white police in America has to be handled as carefully as the killing of a dalit by upper caste people in India.
The controversy around Maggie noodles in 2015 shows how large corporations can be crippled if they aren’t able to manage public perceptions.
In order to lead in the post-truth world, leaders have to learn new skills as well as unlearn some of the old ones. They not only have to promote public good, they have to be seen doing this as well. Also, they need to be good communicators talking to their stake-holders continuously. Operating in the VUCA world, they can hardly afford to be non-transparent or laid-back in their approach.
Another emerging dimension of the post-truth scenario is that while leaders keep influencing their followers, the followers in turn, influence their leaders much more than ever before. In a world where Information Technology and Social Media have given a voice to the common man, followers play a crucial role in empowering and legitimizing their leaders.
Idealization and often idolization of leaders by people through their mass endorsements imparts a charisma to the leader. In return, the leader too keeps catering to the segments endorsing him. The floating suggestions to stir passions, build opinions, test ideas and seek further endorsements. Thus, in a way, both the leaders and their followers keep feeding each other and empowering each other. However, in the process, the followers keep influencing the direction which their leader intends to follow.
People don’t follow their leader simply for the vision enunciated by him. they follow him because the leader reinforces the vision of the world where they feel their interests would be better protected.
Leaders of today have got to learn this romance of leadership for their own success and survival.
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Author: Pawan Verma
Pawan Verma is top management professional with over 35 years of experience in life, general & health insurance, and housing finance. He is also Professional Speaker at Indian & global platforms, associated with London Speaker Bureau & Indian Speaker Bureau. Speaks on Leadership, Management, Innovation & Creativity and Insurance.