How come a leader becomes a leader? In this article, we are not interested in the historical process but in the answer to the twin questions: what qualifies one to be a leader and why do people elect someone specific to be a leader. The immediately evident response would be that the leader addresses or is judged by his voters to be capable of addressing their needs. These could be economic needs, psychological needs, or moral needs. In all these cases, the needs are judged to be serious enough as to threaten acceptable existence (emphasis on the word “acceptable”). Mere survival is rarely at risk (famine, war, plague). On the contrary, people are mostly willing to sacrifice their genetic and biological survival on the altar of acceptable existence. To be acceptable, life must be honourable. To be honourable, certain conditions (commonly known as “rights”) must be fulfilled and upheld. No life can be honourable without food and shelter (property rights), personal autonomy (as safeguarded by freedoms), security, respect (as expressed through human rights) and influence upon the future (civil rights). In the absence of even one of these elements, people tend to gradually become convinced that their lives are not worth living. They become mutinous and try to restore the “honourable equilibrium”. They seek food and shelter by inventing new technologies and by implementing them in a bid to control nature and other, human, factors. They rebel against any massive breach of their freedoms: free speech has provoked more bloodshed than it has ever prevented. The seek security: they legislate and create law enforcement agencies and form an army. Above all, people are concerned with being respected and with influencing their terms of existence, present and future. The two may be linked : the more able a person is to influence his environment, to mould it – the more respected he is by others. Leaders are perceived to be possessed of qualities conducive to the success of such battles of restoration. Some signal that the leader emits keeps telling his followers: I can increase your chances to win the war that you are waging in order to find food and shelter / respect / personal autonomy / security / an enhanced ability to influence your future.

But WHAT is this signal? What information does it carry with it? How is it received and deciphered by those led? And how, exactly, does it influence their decision making processes?

The signal is, probably, a resonance. The sum total of the information emanating from the leader, the air exuded by him, the data relevant to him and which is explicitly provided or available – must resonate in strong correlation with the situation. The leader must not only resonate with the world around him – but also with the world that he promises to usher. Modes, fashions, buzzwords, fads, beliefs, hopes, fears, hates and loves, plans, other information, a vision – all must be neatly incorporated in this human package. A leader is a shorthand version of the world in which he operates, a map of his times, the harmony (if not the melody) upon which those led by him can improvise. They must see in him all the principles of their lives: grievances, agreements, disagreements, anger, deceit, conceit, myths and facts, interpretation, compatibility, guilt, paranoia, illusions and delusions (to mention but a few) – all wrapped (or warped) into one neat parcel. It should not be taken to mean that the leader must be an average person – but he must contain the average person in him, lock stock and barrel. His voice must mirror the multitude of voices on the amplitude of which he was swept to power. This ability of his, to be and not to be, to vacate himself, to become the conduit of other people's experiences and existence – is the first element of the leadership signal. It is oriented to the past and to the present.

The second element is what makes the leader distinct. Again, it is a resonance. The leader must be perceived to resonate in perfect harmony with a vision of the future, which the people who elect him find agreeable. “Agreeable” – this means compatible with the fulfilment of the aforementioned needs in a manner, which will render life acceptable. To each group of people, its own requirements, explicit and implicit, openly expressed and latent. The members of a nation might feel that they lost the ability to shape their future and that their security is compromised. They will then select a leader who will – so they believe, judged by what they know about him – restore both. The means of restoration are less important. To become a leader, one must convince the multitude, the masses, the public that one can deliver, not that one knows the best, most optimal and most efficient path to a set goal. The HOW is of no consequences. It pales compared to the WILL HE ? This is because people value the results more than the way. Even in the most individualistic societies, people prefer the welfare of the group to which they belong to their own. The leader promises to optimize utility for the group as a whole. It is clear that not all the members will equally benefit, or even benefit at all. The one who can convince his fellow beings that he can secure the attainment of their goals (and, thus, provide for their needs satisfactorily) – will become a leader. What matters could vary from time to time and from place to place. To one group of people, the personality of the leader is of crucial importance, to others his ancestral roots. At one time, the religious affiliation, and at another, the right education or vision of the future. Whatever determines the outcome, it must be strongly correlated with what the group perceives to be its needs and upon its definition of an acceptable life. This is the information content of the signal.

Selecting a leader is no trivial pursuit. People take it very seriously. They harbour the belief that the results of this decision will also determine whether their needs will be fulfilled. In other words : the choice of leader will determine if they will lead an acceptable life. These seriousness and contemplative attitude prevail even when the leader is chosen by a select few (the nobility, the party). Information is gathered from open sources, formal and informal, by deduction, induction and inference, through contextual surmises, historical puzzle-work and indirect associations. To which ethnic group does the candidate belong? What is his history and his family's / tribe's / nation's? Where is he coming from , geographically and culturally? What is he aiming at and where is he going to, what is his vision? Who are his friends, associates, partners, collaborators, enemies and rivals? What are the rumours about him, the gossip? These are the cognitive, epistemological and hermeneutic dimensions of the information gathered. It is all subject to a process very similar to scientific theorizing. Hypotheses are constructed to fit the known facts. Predictions are made. Experiments conducted and reality data amassed. It is all fitted into a theory. As more data is revealed, accumulates and unfolds – the theory undergoes revisions or a paradigmatic shift, to use an old adage. As with scientific conservatism, the theory tends to colour the interpretation of new data. A cult of “priests’ (commentators) emerges which defends common wisdom and “well known” “facts” against intellectual insurrections and non-conformism. But finally the theory settles down and a consensus emerges: a leader is born.

The emotional aspect is predominant, more than it is in the implementation of the scientific methodology. Emotions play the role of gatekeepers and circuit breakers in the decision-making processes involved in the selection of a leader. They are the filters, the membranes through which information seeps into the minds of the members of the group. They determine the inter-relations between the various data items. Finally, they assign values and moral and affective weights to them within a coherent emotional framework. The emotions in this case are rules of procedure. The information is the input processed by these rules within a fuzzy decision theorem. The leader is the outcome (almost the by-product) of this potentially explosive mixture. This is why the politics of government and leadership is so charged with emotions.

This is a static depiction, which does not provide us with the dynamics of the selection process. How does the information gathered affect it? Which elements interact? How is the outcome determined?

It would seem that people come equipped with a mechanism for the selection of leaders. This mechanism is influenced by experience (is a-posteriori). It comes in the form of procedural rules, an algorithm which directs the member of the group in the intricacies of the group interaction called “leadership selection”. It contains two parts: an information evaluation and classification module and an interactive module. The former is built to deal with constantly added data, to evaluate them and to re-juggle the emerging picture accordingly (to reconstruct or to adjust the theory, even to replace it with another). The second module adapts the person to respond to signals from the other members of the group and to treat them as data, which affect the first module. The synthesis of the output produced by these two modules determines the ultimate selection. As with other choices, the mind is split. There is the individual nucleus, which constitutes our Self, the way we perceive our Self (introspective element) and the way that we perceive our Selves as reflected back at us by others.

And there is the Group nucleus, which is our share in an entity bigger than us, but no less conscious and goal oriented. A leader is a person who succeeds in giving expression to both these nuclei amply and successfully. When choosing a leader, we, thus, really are choosing ourselves.

Author's Bio: 

Sam Vaknin is the author of "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" and "After the Rain - How the West Lost the East". He is a columnist in "Central Europe Review", United Press International (UPI) and and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

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