When a leader takes pains to stand distinctly apart from and even contrary to virtually every other leader in the pack, what does that deliberate sort of disjunction from the mainstream suggest? Some might say it speaks to the lone leader’s profound vision and courage. Others might point to such behavior and call it out as a flight from reality or descent into isolation. The recent G20 meeting in Germany in which the U.S. president took pains to step apart from his 19 other counterpart heads of state brings these questions to mind.
Going it alone can have an upside. It provides a certain freedom of movement. When you represent the biggest economic and military power on the planet, it guarantees you the spotlight. But does it actually stand for what your people want and believe? What does it signal to the constituency back in the home country, most of whom have counted on presidents in their lifetimes to represent security and stability?
The important word here is “represent.” A leader – of a nation, a business, an organization – assumes an obligation by virtue of their role to stand for the whole, not just some favored part, and not just based on a calculated need to appeal to a minority political base.
In the landscape of nations, going it alone comes with incalculable if not immediate consequences. Remember the isolationist streak that settled like a miasma over America as a prelude to last century’s devastating wars?
You can tell the difference between amateur and competent social entrepreneurs by watching how they position their project or program idea. Rank amateurs flash their wares in the world’s face, insisting on the utter rightness and singularity of their preferred approach. Competent players take pains to position their work in a broader context, pointing out roots in what’s gone before, saluting the struggles to come, and expressing hope that, gathered together, the energies of all will vanquish the alienation of standing all alone. That’s what makes competent social entrepreneurs more important today than ever before.
Just as Abraham Lincoln, a reluctant but ultimately committed social entrepreneur, realized after the bloody wake-up call of Gettysburg, our democracy once again is engaged in a great struggle testing whether our form of self-government can long endure. Democracy is all about hashing out differences in the spirit of facing the future together. On the streets and in the neighborhoods of Los Angeles, as in the nation, our lot belongs squarely in the gathering, not in the chilly wilderness of going it alone.
Desert Leader by Hamed Saber