Leadership and Public Speaking: Skills Needed in Today’s Times

Accountable and dignified leadership is extremely important in the modern contemporary world, democracy or not, and has always remained so. A leader is a mediator who delivers you your freedom, gives you back to yourself. When we listen to a true leader, we discover what we want. Perhaps most of us already knew what we always wanted, without truly knowing it. A leader is needed because we cannot accede to a cause directly, owing to our natural state of inert hedonism. Hedonism is the pursuit of one’s own self interest and pleasure. We all feel the need for it on a daily basis. We need to be pushed from outside. This created a paradoxical situation where even though we live as free individuals, we are effectively non-free, and need to be pushed or disturbed into freedom by a leader.

Modern Democracy is not the rule of a sovereign people, instead it has transgressed into ‘the rule of a politician’. Someone skilled at commanding and swaying public opinion and winning elections, whose power is chiefly balanced by his need for re-election, and the requirement that he leave office peacefully, should he lose the vote. It has become primarily about demeaning and discrediting one’s opponents, poking holes in others’ work, and pushing negative propaganda. For a majority of people living in democracies all over the world, choosing a leader is now limited to voting for the lesser of two evils. The world is full of aspiring political leaders but, very few live up to leadership ideals. In fact, many political leaders seem to severely lack some of the most important leadership qualities, such as integrity and accountability. It is no mere coincidence, nor is it surprising that for many people, the word “politician” has such negative connotations. One of the key leadership qualities many political leaders lack is ability to take responsibility. This is something modern leaders don’t portray, understand or refuse to acknowledge. We can see this all over the world in leadership roles held by Donald Trump, Xi Jin Ping and Lalu Prasad Yadav.

However, this was not always the case. History stands witness to great leaders including Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, M.K. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. At a time when Jefferson could have easily swayed the majority by attacking his ‘crooked’ opponents while campaigning, he chose to base his rhetoric on ‘We all are Republicans’. Gandhi struggled to maintain non-violence as the narrative of the Indian Freedom Struggle, and owing to this, he transformed himself into a meticulous orator, to the extent that every speech he delivered was enthralling and engaging. He did so by holding an aim that was far beyond him and his own public speaking nerves. By having a mission, he was willing to stand up for. But Gandhi wasn’t a populist, saying what he thought his audience would like to hear; he was on the contrary quite capable of saying things or doing things that were unacceptable to many. One of the most impactful speeches he ever delivered was the ‘Quit India Movement’ address, wherein he said ‘A nonviolent soldier of freedom will covet nothing for himself, he fights only for the freedom of his country. The Congress is unconcerned as to who will rule, when freedom is attained’.

He identified barriers to make change sustainable. His ability to communicate in a different way was what made him an extraordinary public speaker. Gandhi addressed a public meeting on the sands of the river Kathjori in Cuttack, and he spoke in Hindi due to which it is unlikely that the whole audience understood what he was saying. And yet, everyone followed him. He reached his audience with passion and even though his was the voice of quiet certainty, it reverberated loudly in the hearts of his audiences. A lot of political leaders are very adept at pointing the fingers at everyone else and few seem able to accept responsibility for their mistakes, admit their political failures and acknowledge their own contribution to a problem. It was this very responsibility and accountability that Gandhi undertook during several imprisonments throughout his Satyagrah. He understood that it was his burden to serve the public, not the other way around.

His manner of delivery, rhetoric and freshness were what differentiated him from perhaps hundreds of other speakers. Someone once said, “Gandhi was no emperor, not a military general, not a president nor a prime minister. He was neither a pacifist nor a cult guru. His thoughts when appeared in the form of talk or article became official words of action with the masses of India.” This is indeed true, and hopefully, up and coming politicians and leaders understand and inculcate these very values.

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