Leadership has always been a fascinating topic for people in research, business world, politics and the common man. History is replete with examples where the success of a given nation, revolution or organizational goals has been associated with a leader. Research in social and evolutionary psychology suggests that leaders aiming for positions often use one of these two approaches.
The first is dominance’ where people try to attain social rank or position by coercion, intimidation, fear or manipulation of behaviour, cognition and emotions. The second strategy is ‘prestige’, where a person aims at claiming a leadership position through the display of valued knowledge and skills. Globally we are witnessing a trend wherein leaders perceived as confident, controlling and strongly hierarchical are being voted for positions of power. The best examples being Donald Trump and Narendra Modi. Research reveals that dominant leaders become more appealing than prestige leaders when the socioeconomic environment is ridden with uncertainty. The reason for the same is partly rooted in people’s psychological desire for restoring their sense of personal control which is threatened in times of uncertainty.
Whatever approach the leader may take, the significant role of the followers remains indisputable. It becomes slightly more critical where the leader optimizes on the dominance strategy. Followers here need to understand better, define and play their role, to see that they are led towards a successful future and not doom. Gripped with pandemic, economic uncertainty and unwanted elements and events trying to break the fabric of our society, it’s time to take our role as followers seriously. How we uphold and stand true to this role, have a significant impact on us as individuals and our contribution towards a civic society and nation-building. In the light of the management model given by Dr Subhash Sharma, cognitive dominance may manifest itself either in the form of mental slavery, unquestioned surrender, presenting an alternative worldview or resistance by the dominated. Through the reflective analysis presented below, I have tried to ask questions that can help us examine our role as a follower and responsible citizen of our country?
1) Do you feel your leader or those in power are trying to impose a worldview different from yours based on their personally held values? Is it conflicting with your worldview, but you choose not to question? The reason could be your lack of awareness, incompetence, personal choice or your strategy to support the leader to safeguard your position in the changing society. If yes, then you are engaging in ‘mental slavery‘. Mental slavery by followers can thwart their personal growth, cause loss of individual identity and gradually lead to the disappearance of the indigenous culture of a society or country.
2) Do you feel in the current environment the leader, the media and all the benefiting stakeholders are trying to present their worldview as a universal truth? It could be presenting their work as achievements that no one else could promise or deliver; or merely striving to stay in power by portraying a given minority as a threat or liability to the majority population. Do you, as a follower, believe in their words as facts? Forget about asking valid questions as responsible citizens, you believe in actively defending all your leader/ govt decisions. Do you label or shut anyone trying to question the action or intentions of those in power? If the answer is yes, mind it, you are a victim of ‘unquestioned surrender‘.
In a scenario where a leader enjoys followership based on such ‘unquestioned surrender’ from a vast majority, such cognitive dominance can lead to the creation of subgroups in society. One group can function with the prime objective of supporting the leader blindly, and the other may function to reject or doubt every action by the leader. The followers may then choose to express themselves in a way that grants them the security of being associated with the perceived powerful group. New labels like bhakts, sickulars and others come to dominate the common man’s lingo to categorize or stereotype individuals. Such a situation maybe highly profitable for a leader and those in power to optimize the resources for their personal gains for long. The followers may end up being the losers if the leader is not worth the trust. A country or society suffering from this form of dominance that inhibits free-thinking, promotes intellectual slavery will deprive itself of the benefits of free dialogue/discourse that are the cornerstone of inclusive growth and progressive society.
3) Are you the follower who listens to your leader and the perspectives of other followers, irrespective of the group to which they belong in a non-judgmental way? Do you then dare to share the questions that throng your mind without fear of losing membership to any group? By ‘proposing an alternative view’ you contest on the claims made by the leader. For example, if the constitution declares India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, but the fundamental rights of any group or minority is in threat; you refuse to buy into the hierarchy and ask the seemingly difficult questions. You appreciate the fact that the vision of a nation is always more important than the success of a leader or agenda of any political party. You are contributing towards the much-needed shift from ‘mind colonization’ to ‘mind liberation’. You may risk getting labelled as anti-national, but still, it’s worth it.
4) Do you find yourself in a situation where the leader is trying to exert their dominance or imposing their world view, and you are busy resisting every action? The situation between you and your leader is that of cognitive combat and in a constant drive to oppose the leader, you engage in persistent criticism and doubting every action of the leader. It may be profitable for the leader in earning him free publicity. However, this can be a non-constructive approach, for progressive dialogues and deliberations cannot happen in a situation of cognitive combat, and the country suffers at large.
The intricately woven relationship between a leader and his followers plays a critical role in the development of a nation, and any kind of dominance must be avoided. ‘Following’ is often presumed as merely doing what one is told to do and hence takes a backseat, but it’s equally important to assess one’s role as a follower. A truly developed country is created by not merely a great leader but responsible citizens and true patriots who refuse to engage in mental slavery or unquestioned surrender. An educated follower/responsible citizen fearlessly demonstrate the courage to openly and unapologetically disagree with leadership if the situation demands. More so in a political scenario if the leader or those in power are driven by personal gains and not the common good. To conclude, let’s capitalize on our ability to think independently, disagree agreeably and act responsibly, remembering that our loyalty is first towards the nation than any leader or party. For a short time, we are in this transient world lets strive to conserve and create a legacy worthy of our children so that they remember us with gratitude, not resentment.
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A featured contributor with The Dispatch, Dr. Farah Naqvi is an academician, writer and behavioural scientist. You can write to her at [email protected] or click on her website to know more: https://farahnaqvi.com/. Follow her at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
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