Alexander the Great’s leadership skills are still studied today – among them, his insistence on leading from the front, on suffering with his troops and not exploiting the privileges of his position. Today, many prominent politicians act in a way that undermines the concept of good leadership to such an extent that their greatest gift to younger generations would be to just fade away, remaining in memory only as examples to be avoided.
The issue is crucial: the longer that young people keep seeing behavior that is arrogant and irresponsible, they will feel that their leaders are lacking in credibility and not worthy of respect. They will feel entitled to act like spoilt children themselves. In this way, bad leaders will not only be the products of specific circumstances, they will become the norm.
What does a child learn while watching Boris Johnson trample over laws and regulations that his government introduced? Or when Donald Trump manipulates the mob with lies and undermines democratic institutions? Or when Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan violate neighbors’ borders and threaten war?
The truth is that history leaders have acted this way throughout and no one has been able to change this. The difference is that today we all see such behavior on our screens – live, unfiltered by time and the editing of those who shape the image of the leader. Seeing bad behavior on the news as something natural and expected – and which usually remains unpunished – children will learn to tolerate it and to mimic it.
In Greece, we have reached the point where aggression and polarization are lauded as proof of militancy and devotion to the cause. Rage against real or imagined injustices (“they brought our government down,” “they stole the match with crooked referees,” “they violated our team’s holy ground,” and so on) provokes tension which continually seeks pretexts for an explosion. The corrosion of public life is such that some politicians are not content with being a bad example themselves but have come to import the extreme attitudes of the street into Parliament.
Seeing how such behavior infests the party that tolerates it, we understand the magnitude of the threat to politics and society. The only antidote is for the other political forces to show great restraint and maturity, to isolate the culprits and to protect the institutions.