Good leaders can’t always be popular: President

President Nathan says (ST, 6 Oct 2007) that a good leader is not necessarily one who is popular but rather one who has to defy public opinion sometimes in order to achieve growth. He has to have the conviction that he is making the right decision and that public opinion will eventually catch up.

It is not that our leaders sometimes defy public opinion, they always defy public opinion whenever public interests are not in line with theirs. It is also not that public opinion catches up, but rather public opinion simply does not count.

Just look at Myanmar, the military junta raised the prices of fuel and basic goods manifold over night. That they were unpopular didn’t mean they were the right thing to do.

So saying that a leader shouldn’t be a populist, is no excuse for him to be dictatorial. He should not pursue growth for the sake of his own glory but should instead consider the resources available and the well being of the people. A good analogy is that of a newly appointed CEO who sets out to distinguish himself by whipping his people to slave harder for him. In so doing, he not only makes life difficult, but also reduces company morale. He is harming the company, not taking it to greater heights.

A good leader is first and foremost one who truly cares for his people. Because he truly cares for his people, he will not force them against their wills. He would never reward himself first before he rewards his people. He would never take all the credit to himself but would recognise the sacrifices of his people. He will never force and bulldoze his way around but would instead motivate the people with his vision and charisma. People would feel for him and would serve him with pride.

Sadly, that solidarity of purpose is not present in our country. Instead, we have leaders pursuing their own agenda at the expense of the people’s well being.

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