Celebritised leadership | By Dr Abdus Sattar Abbasi


Celebritised leadership

THERE isn’t an abundance of leaders who enjoy a status of celebrity before holding a position of power.

It can be both the advantage and a drawback psychologically and on performance front for a leader having celebrity status.

They are exposed to a double edged sword because their every move and every word remain under scrutiny.

They get exceptional applause if they perform well but the scale of disappointment remains even higher if they don’t meet expectations.

They cherish abundance of advocates who try to justify their failures on performance front; however, it is usually hard to defend if they use indecent metaphors in their communication and speeches.

Most recently we noticed several surprising analogies for the opposition by the Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan in the mainstream political arena such as the ‘three jokers’, if we try to express ‘chuhay’ decently the ‘three dwarfs’, the three stooges, the boot polisher, the diesel, the thief, a complete narrative that ‘a human being can’t be neutral, it is only a nonhuman (janwar) who can be neutral, a human being definitely takes a side may be right or wrong which is eventually decided on the basis of consequences and a blatant treat, obviously symbolic, that an opponent will be ‘on my gunpoint’.

PM even didn’t spare deviant parliamentarians of his own party calling them unscrupulous; PM didn’t stop here, he extended consequences to their children emphasising that ‘your offspring will face retaliation in their schools and you will even not be able to marry them conveniently’, PM warned that ‘deviant members will be remembered as unfaithful for rest of their lives’.

These quite aggressive positions in politics certainly attract attention of students of the concept of ‘leadership’, like me, to understand the nature of this particular kind of leadership approach to determine underpinnings of this relatively strange exhibition of leadership stature.

Dr.David Simm, Emeritus Professor at Lancaster University UK, suggests in his PhD dissertation, “All intangible assets of a reputational nature including celebrity are similar to the extent that they influence the perceptions of stakeholders and, consequently, their willingness to enter into an exchange.

Whilst intangible assets such as status, reputation and legitimacy attempt to objectively evaluate future potential, in the case of a celebrity, such evaluations may, because of its perceived fame and favour, be positive even in situations where there is insufficient information to make such rational judgements.

Together, the ability to attract large]scale public attention and to stimulate positive emotional responses provides celebrity with access to critical resources and strategic opportunities (e.g.?alliances?and?partnerships) that it might have only limited or no access to otherwise.

Since celebrity is primarily a creation of the mass media who are also the primary source of our perceptions.

The media are an integral aspect of modern society.In general, they can, both intentionally and unintentionally, influence news and, ultimately, public opinion in numerous ways.

Essentially, it is impossible for the media to present a flawlessly objective picture of a happening or phenomenon.”

This one paragraph from Dr.Simm’s thesis probably describes the entire landscape of PM’s political career.

He was and still a celebrity not only in Pakistan but in several western and non-western societies.

His celebrity status helped him in the political career while several stakeholders were readily willing to join hands with him due to perceived potential based on two popular successes including the Cricket World Cup and establishment of Shaukat Khanum Hospital.

PM’s ability to attract large-scale public attention and to stimulate positive emotional responses remained instrumental in his every endeavour while media played key role particularly in shaping his political career.

We can give numerous reasons for relatively less technical abilities of the PM to run a government and economic turmoil due to global circumstances.

However, while witnessing changing stances of some die-hard advocates and recent statements of the PM it seems quite obvious that media failed to present flawlessly objective persona of the PM.

It is vital for a leader to remain psycho dynamically conscious that when does confidence turn into arrogance and when does drive become ruthless ambition.

Leaders with celebrity status usually exhibit grandiosity, perceived superiority & entitlement, self-centeredness, domineering, controlling and arrogance which are generally forbidden commodities in politics at least publically.

While traits are certainly useful for a leader which actually paves the way to become a celebritized leader, however, leadership is ultimately a phenomenon that resides in the context of quality of interactions between leaders and followers.

Leadership is observed through attitude and behaviour of a leader that how a leader thinks or feels about followers and how a leader acts or conducts followers.

On the ground both attitude and behaviour of a leader determine in-groups and out-groups of followers irrespective of celebrity or non-celebrity leader, therefore, being a celebrity it adds to the responsibilities of a leader to be more responsible and careful.

There are different types of celebrity leaders such as creators, transformers, rebellious, savior, icons, hidden gems, silent killers and even scoundrels.

Some of these types of celebrity leaders seem self-explanatory but some do instigate the reader to probe further for better understanding.

Researchers do agree that these types have strong links with the life events which ultimately bestowed celebrity status to the leader.

While going through an article by Jeffrey B.Lovelace from University of Virginia and his colleagues, PM fits into the category of rebellious celebritized leader because PM challenged usual political norms and took extreme positions to differentiate proponents and deviants.

PM also targeted the opposition quite aggressively.These characteristics conveniently place him in the archetype of rebel celebrity leader.

To avoid allowing celebrity traits to take over, leaders need to have a better understanding of how they react to certain situations and what their default destructive behaviour is.

This can be done by asking for feedback, becoming more self-aware and learning more about positive personality traits that are found in effective leaders.

As books suggest, asking for feedback can be hard for constructive criticism; however, doing so can provide an outside view of how your behaviour is perceived.

Be sure to talk to individuals who are not your confidants or who may just tell you what you want to hear.

As a leader of the party or head of the government it is indeed difficult to find someone who gives you genuine feedback but again it is your responsibility as a leader, especially when things are not going in appropriate direction, to determine where the flaw is in the leadership process?

—The writer is Associate Professor Management Sciences, Head, Centre of Islamic Finance COMSATS University (CUI) Lahore Campus.


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