New world, new leadership

Posted by: | Posted on: October 5, 2008
Written by Vicente Salas
Friday, 03 October 2008


New global challenges call for different leadership styles



Voters display evidence of casting their ballots.

“Leaders do not have to be heroes, but they must not be afraid to face reality.”

If globalisation means anything, it means that local events have international consequences.
For better or worse, we are compelled to embrace change and accept that the uncertainties of the global political economy are part and parcel of living in such an interdependent world.

What happens at home doesn’t stay at home. East Asian economies prospered miraculously in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, before disaster struck with the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.

No one could have predicted that such a crisis could hit at the epicentre of a major emerging economic bloc.
The result was widespread political instability and a downgrading of human security.
The crisis taught us to be conscious of global uncertainties.

And then came SARS and bird flu-another aspect of globalisation that demonstrated our global vulnerability to disease. Global migration moves much faster today and remains beyond the control of nation-state institutionalism.
Natural disasters have global impacts: the Southeast Asian tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005, Cyclone Nargis in Burma in May 2008 and the Sichuan earthquake in China 10 days later.

Global climate change has achieved an unprecedented level of awareness.
Through mass media, we are learning more about what is happening around us. World leaders are working shoulder-to-shoulder to cope with our changing environment. It is the first time in human history that we have achieved such a broad consensus on a common issue.

We now face a global financial crisis that began with the collapse of financial institutions in the US. On September 30, stock prices plummeted worldwide as investors feared market instability.
These are the new realities of global interdependence.

The complexity of global networks requires effective tools to deal with the unpredictability of events and the advent of international crises.

We are forced to consider the correct response. Should we panic? Should we pull back from our global alliances?
The key to all these pressing concerns is leadership, the lack of which has proven disastrous.

Leaders must keep their minds open to new ideas. They do not have to be heroes, but they must not be afraid to face reality.

‘Liquid leadership’
Scholars and policy-makers have proposed many models of leadership: adaptive, invitational/participative and moral. To these, I would add “liquid” leadership, which can be defined as adaptive, reflective, engaged, flexible, gentle, transparent, dynamic and down to earth – just like water.

Water is global. We need water to survive. We are living in a melting pot of social, cultural, political and economic ingredients, and water accommodates them all.

Water is a source of reflection – figuratively and literally. Leaders must constantly reflect on action and the consequences of action.

In past ages, water was used to predict the future. Today, leaders must be adept at watching trends and foreseeing possible outcomes.

No one can break or cut water. So, leaders must be patient and strong, but also yielding.

Water has been used in religious rites to confer blessings or good fortune. New Year’s celebrations in Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and Laos include the ceremonial dousing of friends, relatives and more commonly complete strangers with water as a way of ensuring health and future happiness.

Our leaders must also work for the common good of all people.
The world is calling for such liquid leadership.

We must adapt our skills to cope with a truly global society. We live amid diversity, uncertainty and risk. We must adapt.  We must rally our intellectual forces to find more effective solutions to common challenges.
Every individual has the potential to make the world a better place.

Our leaders must bridge the gap between individuals – not by virtue of their authority, but in the spirit of global participation to achieve the ends we seek.

Vicente Salas is a medical doctor and health care consultant based in Phnom Penh.

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