The concept of change being driven by leaders leading and followers following is so 16th-century—utterly outdated. The 21st century promises a new order where no one and everyone is a leader, both at the same time.
If you ever felt God had let you down, you could choose not to believe in God. There is even a word for it, atheist, defined as “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings” (dictionary.com).
The same thing cannot be said about leadership. You cannot stop believing in leadership even if you were disillusioned with your leaders. You get a new leader, if only to switch from one leader to another (and likely branding yourself “disloyal” in the process). What would you even call someone who doesn’t believe in leadership? There’s isn’t a word for it yet.
The entire human construct—families and communities, economic and political systems—is based around the concept of leaders leading and followers following. At the same time, a crisis of leadership is sweeping the world.
From rich to poor countries, democracies to dictatorships, global issues to local ones, leadership has failed to provide solutions. Instead, there is disillusionment, discontent, despair, and conflict.
With its marvels of information technology, the 21st century offers the promise of a new order without the need for leadership.
Information about the availability of the Covid vaccine, when one is finally ready, will reach people far more quickly than the vaccine itself. The continuous generation, availability, and speed of information is only one aspect. Symmetry of information is the other; participants are now closer to a situation where they all have the same information at the same time.
The information platform isn’t perfect yet. There is, for instance, misinformation, disinformation, fake news, and barriers to access. Even with these imperfections, increased availability and symmetry of information have already had pronounced impacts around the world.
Change is now possible without the need for a charismatic leader, or a leader at all. The series of spontaneous anti-government uprisings that spread through 18 Arab states between 2010 and 2013, for example, resulted from collective activism rather than any single leader. The recent Black Lives Matter movement that has swept through the US and inspired similar calls for equality in other parts of the world is fuelled by a convergence in values, enabled, in part, by the availability and access to information.
Intellect, consciousness, empathy
The availability of information—often delivered in real time from across borders, cultures, and history—is allowing us to get closer to our core human instincts of intellect, consciousness, and empathy.
Technology is enabling our intellect to process more information, and faster, than ever before. Information allows our consciousness to recognize the impact of our individual behaviour. The picture of a plastic bag spotted in the deepest point of the ocean pinches us every time we discard one. From thousands of miles away, sometimes even across time, we are touched by pictures, sounds and stories of poverty, hunger, brutality, and injustice. We can see, feel, and empathize, if we choose to, with those struggling for their rights, equality, or simply a decent life.
Information, and 21st-century technology, has reduced the complexity around us to a digital sensory world that we can see, feel, and hear. Our individual intellect, consciousness, and empathy are responding to this sensory world. Are we in or are we out? Do we agree or disagree? These are decisions we are now armed to make, and increasingly making on our own, without the need for leadership to show us the way.
Enabled by the marvels of information technology, the greatest achievement of the 21st century thus far has been to demonstrate that change is possible without the glorification of leadership. Change is being driven by the convergence of ideas and values, not the appeal of leadership.
Relevance to Nepal
Within this emerging paradigm about the end of leadership is a message for those in Nepal who believe it is important to be in power to change the system. Maybe we don’t need to become the president, or prime minister, or someone with formal authority to change the system. We can produce lasting change if we are the system.