Celebritised leadership

There isn’t an abundance of leaders who enjoy the status of a celebrity before holding a position of power. It can be both an advantage and a drawback psychologically and on the performance front for a leader having celebrity status. They are exposed to a double-edged sword because their every move and every word remains under scrutiny. They get exceptional applause if they perform well, but the scale of disappointment remains even higher if they don’t meet expectations. They cherish an abundance of advocates who try to justify their failures on the performance front; however, it is usually hard to defend if they use indecent metaphors in their communication and speeches. Most recently we noticed several surprising analogies for the opposition by the Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan in the mainstream political arena. The PM didn’t even spare deviant parliamentarians of his own party, calling them unscrupulous. These aggressive positions in politics certainly attract the attention of students and those like me to the concept of ‘leadership’, to understand the nature of this particular kind of leadership approach to determine the underpinnings of this relatively strange exhibition of leadership stature.
Dr David Simm, Emeritus Professor at Lancaster University UK, suggests in his PhD dissertation, “All intangible assets of a reputational nature including celebrity are similar to the extent that they influence the perceptions of stakeholders and, consequently, their willingness to enter into an exchange. Whilst intangible assets such as status, reputation and legitimacy attempt to objectively evaluate future potential, in the case of a celebrity, such evaluations may, because of its perceived fame and favour, be positive even in situations where there is insufficient information to make such rational judgements. Together, the ability to attract large-scale public attention and to stimulate positive emotional responses provides celebrities with access to critical resources and strategic opportunities (e.g. alliances and partnerships) that it might have only limited or no access to otherwise. Since celebrity is primarily a creation of the mass media who are also the primary source of our perceptions. The media are an integral aspect of modern society. In general, they can, both intentionally and unintentionally, influence the news and, ultimately, public opinion in numerous ways. Essentially, it is impossible for the media to present a flawlessly objective picture of a happening or phenomenon.”
This one paragraph from Dr Simm’s thesis probably describes the entire landscape of the PM’s political career. He was and still is a celebrity, not only in Pakistan, but in several western and non-western societies. His celebrity status helped him in his political career while several stakeholders were readily willing to join hands with him due to the perceived potential, based on two popular successes including the Cricket World Cup and the establishment of Shaukat Khanum Hospital. The PM’s ability to attract large-scale public attention and to stimulate positive emotional responses remained instrumental in his every endeavour while the media played a key role in shaping his political career. We can give numerous reasons for the relatively less technical abilities of the PM to run a government and economic turmoil due to global circumstances. However, it is vital for a leader to remain psycho-dynamically conscious about when confidence turns into arrogance and when drive becomes ruthless ambition. Being a celebrity adds to the responsibilities of a leader to be more responsible and careful.
There are different types of celebrity leaders such as creators, transformers, rebellious, saviours, icons, hidden gems, silent killers and even scoundrels. Some of these types of celebrity leaders seem self-explanatory but some do instigate the reader to probe further for better understanding. Researchers do agree that these types have strong links with life events which ultimately bestowed celebrity status to the leader. While going through an article by Jeffrey B Lovelace from University of Virginia and his colleagues, I surmised that the PM fits into the category of the rebellious celebritised leader because the PM challenged usual political norms and took extreme positions to differentiate proponents and deviants. The PM also targeted the opposition quite aggressively. These characteristics conveniently place him in the archetype of a rebel celebrity leader.
To avoid allowing celebrity traits to take over, leaders need to have a better understanding of how they react to certain situations and when their default behaviour is destructive. This can be done by asking for feedback, becoming more self-aware and learning more about positive personality traits that are found in effective leaders. As books suggest, asking for feedback can be hard for constructive criticism; however, doing so can provide an outside view of how your behaviour is perceived. Be sure to talk to individuals who are not your confidants or who may just tell you what you want to hear. As a leader of a party or head of government, it is indeed difficult to find someone who gives you genuine feedback but again, it is your responsibility as a leader, especially when things are not going in appropriate direction, to determine where the flaw is in the leadership process.

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