The challenges of leadership: Ineffectual leaders are a real threat

After a brief ceremony in Tokyo today, Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan, will become emperor and ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne. 

He will succeed his father, Akihito, who earlier reported his abdication to his ancestors, including the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, from whom the 2,600-year imperial line is purportedly descended. 

Female members of the imperial family are not allowed to attend today’s investiture, a convention retained despite criticism.

The idea of an emperor may seem quaint to a democratic, liberal, Netflix-watching, newly-vegetarian European. 

Our long history, to use a Brexiteer phrase, as a vassal state inclines us to mix that bemusement with some scorn, but maybe we should accept that different cultures do leadership differently. 

After all, Gerry Adams led Sinn Féin for five years more — 35 — than Emperor Akihito reigned. 

Mr Adams may not have involved a sun goddess in his abdication, but he probably consulted forces just as mysterious.

There are many mysterious forces involved in leadership. Charisma is one, though it is no more than an introductory talent; an office-holder with charisma, but without leadership skills, is little more than an over-promoted court clown. 

US president, Donald Trump, is the pre-eminent example of that incompleteness. 

Mr Trump provokes such a visceral response that his opponents overreact. Some will march in protest when he visits in June, rather than shun him, denying him the thing he craves — attention. 

America’s election cycle is tightening, but more than two dozen Democrats imagine themselves an alternative to the incumbent. 

This shows how dangerous the leadership void is in America’s Democratic Party. These candidates will drain each other, while Mr Trump gleefully provokes and lies. 

In the long ago, an Irish politician — Fianna Fáil’s Seamus Brennan — went to America to see how to run a modern election campaign. 

Maybe it’s time to reciprocate and save the Democrats from themselves. 

Fianna Fáil, even at its lowest ebb, would not have tolerated this panic-stricken charge of the self-indulgent.

The peace, affluence, and stability we enjoy are legacies of a leadership ethos shaped by the horrors of the last century. 

Brexit is, sadly, a legacy of that, too. David Cameron, who reportedly earns €140,000 an hour speaking about Brexit, was at best unwise to concede a referendum, an error compounded by the very thin leadership of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. 

A more bellicose kind of leadership is in action in Venezuela, where Juan Guaido said, yesterday, he had begun the “final phase” of his plan to oust president, Nicolas Maduro, calling on Venezuelans and the military to back him to end Mr Maduro’s “usurpation.” 

A coup dressed as leadership.

In a European context, Sunday’s election placed a huge burden of leadership on Spain’s centre-left PSOE socialists, led by Pedro Sánchez. 

If they can show that the social democratic centre-left can win elections by challenging the status quo with socially inclusive reforms, then the swing to the right might be derailed — an objective that becomes more and more important as European elections loom.

Doing so would surely make our own sun goddess smile.

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