Imran Khan brought to the political table of Pakistan leadership learnt in the arena of sports, where at best, he was leading 10 players on the field on a given day. Even the 12th man was distant. Besides these 10 people there was nothing for him to either direct, govern or lead. Khan had not led any corporate entity or organisation to learn on the job, the skills of management of people and resources. Upon entering the field of politics, he lodged his claim to leading a motley crowd of 220 million people — who unlike his cricket team (followers), had no single agenda or even a harmonised skill set; each unit of this maddening crowd was/is different, unusual and difficult.
On October 31, 2011 he arrived. Following the record mammoth public meeting in Lahore he had no time to look back and was finally installed by way of election as the prime minister in 2018. Later through intrigues, he was removed ‘legally’ through a vote of no-confidence. To his detractors he went into no political wilderness, instead he has been back among the electorate with a vengeance. On the day of his removal from the office, people unilaterally stepped out on the streets of Pakistan in numbers that sent shudders in the ranks of the newly-installed government. That ‘unled’ protest was an elixir to his enthusiasm to fight back; and that he does well arising out of the experience of actually defying all odds, while playing cricket. His slogan has been, “Never, say die!”
In the umpteen public meetings, he addressed since then, at various towns and cities, he has launched a venomous tirade against his alleged conspirators and co-conspirators. The loss of control in speech has landed him with regular visits to various courts for facing multiple charges, including the amazing charge of terrorism.
Khan must take a pause on his vision, attitude, objectives, team building and most importantly his speech. Just as marching forward is critical for a leader so is the ability to recognise when to pause, stop or hold back. The leadership cannot be nomadic in either philosophy or implementation. The aims and objectives have to be precise. A leader must have a dream, a hope, a destination to sell; he has to be a merchant of distributing conviction among his followers. His job is to convert the “will do” to “can do” people, individuals and teams.
Khan speaks from the heart, his words; hence, touch the hearts of his listeners. He has awakened the conscience of the nation. When a leader is listened to by his followers it exacts a demand upon leadership to be strictly cognizant of the responsibility that gets placed on their shoulders. Speak with caution. The leaders are expected to speak their mind but certainly not everything that comes to the mind.
The characteristics that stem from the feeling of this responsibility will be in the domain of self-disciplining traits, virtues of conscientiousness and about attitude relating to interaction with others, on both, practical and emotional plane. Khan must alter the style of his delivery; must exercise great restraint in his choice of words. This is becoming significant because even his die hard supporters are losing interest in the contents of his speeches. The presence of massive masses must not beguile the leader.
With the soaring popularity, Khan is often now compared with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was possibly the most intelligent, most capable and most popular politician Pakistan has ever produced. In my view, the comparison is unfair because Bhutto demonstrated a very high level of intellect — the fact that he ended up on the gallows set up by Zia-ul-Haq was more a matter of survival of the worst.
The ability to absorb new knowledge is a prerequisite for any profession. The leaders cannot be Mr Know All. They have to be humble to know that not everything is within their abilities to conduct. They have to depend on seeking inputs from others, willingly. Khan too must develop flexibility to de-learn and re-learn. The old English adage says, readers are leaders. The leaders; hence, must read a lot. Jinnah did; so did Nehru, Lincoln, Churchill, and both the Roosevelt’s. Speech is a reflection of one’s mind and what we feed to the mind is both reading and experiences. Khan must read biographies and autobiographies. Reading allows for contemplation. Experience is derived through action. Reading liberates the mind and sets it free from vindictiveness.
The leaders must know that they can only delegate and not abdicate. The buck stops at their desk. Learning fast on the job is a prerequisite. Khan must recognise that the devil is in the details; he must insulate himself from the bureaucracy, which will lead him up the garden path, to make him another Nawaz Sharif who is reputably known for his long span of attention… 60 seconds!
Once armed with knowledge and information it is the responsibility of the leader in this case Imran Khan to educate the masses. The leaders must not be unintelligible in either speech or in giving directions. Clarity and precision must reign supreme. No room for creating cobwebs of misunderstanding by way of ambiguous and unintelligent communications. Words have consequences. Not everything can be surrendered to rhetoric or theatrics. The passionate crowd may drag you, Khan towards pettiness — avoid slipping into that abyss. Indulging in cat calls in every speech doesn’t help your stature. You can amuse the electorate only infrequently.
Share knowledge and become a leader of an aware nation. Even in the context of the state of Madinah, your anecdotes and storytelling act needs to be beefed up with more concrete examples from the history of that era. In the repetition of one or two episodes, there is no new learning for the masses. Let there be more examples that manifest the importance of values. The leaders are teachers.
It is urged that you (Imran Khan) replace your current liberal use of unbecoming adjectives with more positive ones. Envy, anger and revenge are dark impulses that germinate within, sometimes unbeknownst to us. It does not behoove well for your stature to stoop, either by word or action. Learn to be compact in your speaking style; there is no harm to ape Abraham Lincoln or even Nelson Mandela.
Listen and seek advice from noble minds. The kitchen cabinet must be reshaped. It is imperative for you to develop good listening ability. Once this is done then instead of merely lodging complaints about the lack of reform in the society across-the-board it is best that you obtain at least five critical areas in each of the following fields from the subject matter experts and present them in your public speeches, ie, political, judicial, electoral, educational, health reforms, etc. Teach the electorate.
In listening to good counsel demonstrate that you are “wax to receive and marble to retain”. Time must be found to meet with notable think tanks; listen to their views, take notes, accept what is palatable and consign the rest, somewhere. Having listened, ask ample questions to have clarity on the issue at hand. Find time and space to ponder, think, evaluate and reason.
Khan, you have; thus, far demonstrated with conviction that neither applause nor abuse, can derail you from your stated purpose and objectives. That’s a great ability. Supplement this with sobriety and subtlety in speech. It is said, people are a collective reflection of their leader. You can turn this thought on its axis and make yourself and your passion to reflect itself in your followers. Lincoln had aptly remarked with public sentiment, nothing can fail and without it nothing can succeed.
Replace, unnecessary combativeness with the much-needed element of togetherness — those who may not vote for you would also be your fellow citizens, once you get the two-thirds majority that surely you will win, if elections are held today. Leadership places responsibility to lead both the followers and the opposition. Each requires a different skill set that must not be exclusive but should be inclusive to be complementary and supportive. At the end of the day, you are a leader of Pakistan.
As a politician and now with an equal opportunity to become a statesman, you must develop an inexhaustible reservoir of patience; never give up; all options of compromises must be exhausted before using positional power. To reinforce this thought, I bring to attention the remark of Abraham Lincoln: “I am a patient man, but it may as well be understood once and for all, that I shall not surrender the game leaving any available card un-played.”
Operate with posterity as your guiding light so that in 2047, when the young boys and girls of this country read about you they would decide enthusiastically to be like you. Don’t ever lose sight of the sense of history that all great leaders paid focused attention to. Your privileged status must create an inferno of ambition in the young minds do not let it slip, by way of lowering the standards of speech that have potential to stunt their inspiration.
There is no fixed schedule or a determined timetable that governs and monitors the development of leaders. The inherent capacities, notwithstanding the toil towards attainment of acceptance as a leader, is an absolute necessity. Imran Khan, you are blessed with ambition, motivation, firmness, resoluteness, etc, but now you must transcend into showing your social-able skills. Listen to people’s pulse.
In the selection of his team, Abraham Lincoln was never guided by his likes and dislikes. If any had been guilty of personal mistreatment or Ill-abuse towards him but if that person was the fittest man for a place in his cabinet, Lincoln would put him, with same ease, as he would his friend. He preached and practiced “the principle of forgiveness”; wrong done in the past he did not care; it is enough if the man does no wrong hereafter”. This is not to suggest to you Khan that those who pilloried, plundered and looted national wealth must receive a reprieve under the principle of forgiveness. Be tough with them but only, legally.
While some degree of aloofness is a necessity for leadership but a lot of it renders the leader to be perceived as haughty and arrogant. Balancing, being part of the troops and being the commander at headquarters is a skill that must be seen and experienced by the populous. Recently, Sindh has been ravaged by floods — you’re not in the frame with the less privileged, devastated and those in misery — timing is critical. The leaders must be with the followers when they need them most. Delays in action have potential to cause long-term loss and damage to reputation. Z A Bhutto, despite his feudal background, was “people’s man”; you have no such trappings and yet haven’t as yet displayed the aura of being one of their own (people).
Good leaders make way for succession through active succession planning. Keep into sharp focus that you (IK) is not getting any younger with each passing day. I am reminded to remind you, in this piece, the significance of thought you must derive from the old Chinese saying (proverb): “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Humans forget that time and tide would wait for no man. History is written on the shores of time and every single wave that lashes upon its shore takes away all that was written — to allow for making new imprints on the sands of time. I often read and have re-read the following lines, Theodore Roosevelt wrote in the context of death and remembrance” “As the ages roll by, (it was only a matter of time) before the memory of the mighty fades into the inevitable oblivion, steadily flooding the sands of time, effaces the scratches on the sand we call history.” This quote helps to keep one’s feet firmly grounded. It discards false sense of invincibility against time. It helps me run and lead in my corporate life, which can be and has been as political as any conceivable political environment that is ridden with self-interest, egoism and diabolical intrigues.
Practice skills. Test ideas. There is no finality to success. Khan must know how history will judge him as just another instrument in the human continuum, who was given an opportunity to lead a nation — did he avail of it for the benefit of the people or did he squander it like the many who history ruthlessly forgets.
In the study of American Presidential Leadership, Richard Neustadt has argued that “temperament is the great separator”; a leader can live with second class intellect, but a first class temperament is a necessity.
The leaders have to be good followers. It is difficult to imagine leadership without the leader being a good follower himself/herself. No, it makes no sense to have a team akin to Robin Hood and his merry men. The objective of all action has to be noble. While the Sherwood Forrest King had goodness at his heart but in doing so and in that enactment he ceased to be a good follower to social norms and the demands of justice. Richard Nixon, one of the finest presidents of the US had to resign to avoid impeachment because he failed to meet the test of standards set for the office of the presidency.
Imran Khan your followers are impressed by your moral courage and conviction; make it obvious by action that your principles, values and good upbringing override your ambitions.
(The writer is a freelance contributor)