Amid deepening problems—domestic and global—nations require strong leaders. Where can they be found?
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We need someone who can unite us. Someone we can trust. Someone charismatic. Someone with the resolve to tackle tough times. Someone who understands issues affecting ordinary people. An everyman and visionary—a great leader.
Such thoughts are on the minds of citizens whenever a crisis arises. But what makes a great leader?
These are also the thoughts of citizens when elections come around. At that time, the question becomes this: What makes a great politician?
For good or ill, most world leaders today are also politicians. In democracies, people tend to vote for individuals they personally like. They are most likely to vote for candidates who seem to be better versions of themselves, an article in the Journal of Research in Personality stated.
A 2020 study by researchers from the University of Vienna found:
Citizens seek candidates with personalities like their own and who have similar core ideological views.
When many personality traits and core values align, it produces a much stronger connection between voter and politician.
Ideal politicians are seen as more stable, extroverted, conscientious, open and honest than the voters themselves.
The problem with all of this? Each individual is deciding for themselves what makes an effective leader. How can the average person know for sure that the people they are picking are up to the task?
In these powder-keg times, each election seems to grow in importance. There are 45 national votes scheduled in 2023, according to the National Democratic Institute. That is everywhere, from Chile to Belarus to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As global problems become increasingly complex, the world needs true leadership as never before. Yet such leadership seems nowhere to be found.
In the United States, we used to speak of election-year politics, but that has now transformed into everyday politics. The nation seems to be perpetually ramping up to a presidential vote in a process that all but ensures no ideal candidates run for head of state.
Look at attack ads filled with mudslinging, propagating half-truths and putting forth ad hominem arguments. Add to these biased news outlets extolling their chosen candidate and digging up dirt on the opposition. If a person has no substantial skeletons in his closet, he or she will be denigrated through whatever means necessary. This can be as petty as the way the candidate combs their hair.
Super PACs add to this. This type of public action committee operates independently of a specific candidate and can take in unlimited funding from individuals, unions and corporations. In other words, these committees can decide the content of advertisement campaigns for a given person—without the involvement of the man or woman they are promoting.
One does not have to imagine the hatchet jobs and propaganda possibilities when a group can have unlimited funding—such ads are everywhere.
U.S. politics has essentially become a game of who you know, how much money you have, what the media thinks of you, how good you look on TV and what campaign moment can go viral on social media.
While some elected officials do sincerely want to help their nations succeed, they are forced to “play the game” to remain in office. The deck is stacked against anyone exemplifying true leadership rising to high office.
What citizens want from a leader has generally been the same—no matter the time period or circumstances. He should recognize the problems of the people and promptly address them, make bold decisions when necessary and bring lasting peace, health and abundance to everyone under him.
To accomplish this, a leader must have characteristics such as vision, sound judgment and integrity, and selflessly put his country’s needs before his own.
Historians hold up certain world leaders as examples of these qualities.
After the Revolutionary War, George Washington wanted to return to his estate in Virginia. Yet when he saw his country needed him to run for president, he did.
Winston Churchill—known as the British bulldog—gave inspirational speeches that helped his nation endure World War II, and he stood up to one of the most destructive European dictators in history. Even as his health began to fade, he exerted great effort to continue actively participating in government.
Golda Meir, Israel’s first prime minister, planned to move to the newly created country to live on a farm. Instead, she found herself working with surrounding national leaders to ensure the Jewish people could have a homeland after the Holocaust.
Some elected officials are seen as the personification of certain ideal qualities. For example, Abraham Lincoln is known as “Honest Abe.”
Non-political leaders can also exemplify aspects of good character. In 1914, explorer Ernest Shackleton tried to cross Antarctica. His 27-man crew became stranded in the wintry wilderness for 20 months, yet because of his perseverance and drive, not one of them died.
While some successful men and women receive near-unanimous praise from their countrymen, the track records of others are markedly different. For example, while some label Julius Caesar the consummate politician, he murdered his rivals! Genghis Khan amassed a formidable kingdom and was incredibly adaptable on the battlefield, yet he was monstrously cruel.
Even the best leaders had flaws, whether a fierce temper, a tendency toward depression or other weaknesses.
But one characteristic runs through the lives of all these prominent figures: Their time in power came to an end. Caesar’s empire fell apart. Lincoln was assassinated. Churchill was voted out of Parliament. And so on.
While some of these men and women did successfully help their nations weather hard times, they could not ensure lasting peace and prosperity for their citizenry. At best, each could offer only a temporary period of abundance or respite from war.
Look at the entire history of those considered great leaders. The “great” ancient kingdoms—whether ruled by the pharaohs of Egypt, kings of Babylon or Caesars of Rome—ended in utter collapse. The prominent nations of the 20th century—which were helmed by many so-called great men—are now in decline, making way for rising new global superpowers. Attempts to use religion (Islam, Christianity, etc.) as a backbone of government have failed, and the same can be said for the efforts of atheists.
Given this track record, finding someone who perfectly upholds every trait of a true leader appears to be a pipe dream.
Only about 1 in 10 U.S. adults give high ratings to the way democracy is working in the United States or how well it represents the interests of most Americans, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Majorities of adults say U.S. laws and policies do a poor job of representing what most Americans want on issues ranging from the economy and government spending to gun policy, immigration and abortion. The poll shows 53 percent believe Congress is doing a bad job of upholding democratic values, compared with just 16 percent who say it is doing a good job.
The findings illustrate widespread political alienation in a polarized country that limped out of the pandemic and into a recovery haunted by inflation and fears of a recession. In interviews, respondents worried less about the machinery of democracy—voting laws and the tabulation of ballots—and more about the outputs.
Overall, about half the country—49 percent—say democracy is not working well in the United States, compared with 10 percent who say it is working very or extremely well and 40 percent only somewhat well. About half also said each of the political parties is doing a bad job of upholding democracy. This includes 47 percent who say that about Democrats and even more—56 percent—about Republicans.
“I don’t think either of them is doing a good job just because of the state of the economy—inflation is killing us,” said Michael Brown, a 45-year-old worker’s compensation adjuster and father of two in Bristol, Connecticut. “Right now I’m making as much as I ever have, and I’m struggling as much as I ever have.”
A self-described moderate Republican, Mr. Brown has seen the United States falling short of its democratic promise ever since learning in high school that the Electoral College allows someone to become president while not winning the majority of national votes. But he is especially disappointed with Congress now, seeing its obsessions as not reflective of the people’s will.
Mr. Brown said he sees politicians fighting over things that have nothing to do with average voters.
The poll shows 53 percent of Americans say views of “people like you” are not represented well by the government, with 35 percent saying they are represented somewhat well and 12 percent very or extremely well. About 6 in 10 Republicans and independents feel like the government is not representing people like them well, compared with about 4 in 10 Democrats.
Karalyn Kiessling, a researcher at the University of Michigan who participated in the poll, sees troubling signs all around her. A Democrat, she recently moved to a conservative area outside the liberal campus hub of Ann Arbor. Her Republican family members no longer identify with the party and are limiting their political engagement.
Ms. Kiessling researches the intersection of public health and politics and sees many other ways to participate in a democracy in addition to voting—from being active in a political party to speaking at a local government meeting. But she fears increased partisan nastiness is scaring people away from these crucial outlets.
“I think people are less willing to get involved because it’s become more contentious,” Ms. Kiessling, 29, said.
That leads to alienation at the national level, she said—something she certainly feels when she sees what comes out of Washington. “When you have a base that’s a minority of what general Americans think, but they’re the loudest voices in the room, that’s who politicians listen to,” Ms. Kiessling said.
Polarization has transformed some states into single-party dominions, further alienating people like Mark Short, a Republican who lives in Dana Point, California.
“In California, I kind of feel that I throw my vote away every time, and this is just what you get,” said Mr. Short, 63, a retired businessman.
The poll shows that the vast majority of Americans—71 percent—think what most Americans want should be highly important when laws and policies are made, but only 48 percent think that is actually true in practice.
And views are even more negative when it comes to specific issues: About two-thirds of adults say policies on immigration, government spending, abortion policy and gun policy are not representative of most Americans’ views, and nearly as many say the same about the economy as well as gender identity and LGBTQ+ issues. More than half also say policies poorly reflect what Americans want on health care and the environment.
The one thing all governments throughout the ages have in common is this: They all relied on men and women to rule them. This means every administration’s rule was swayed by human nature.
Some leaders feel human nature can be changed, or govern with the assumption that each man, woman and child is inherently good. Others feel mankind cannot change and govern with an iron fist, imposing tyrannical rule. None of these approaches have been successful.
Unknown to most, the Bible clearly explains human nature. It reveals how and why political leaders continually fail to initiate solutions.
Consider just one verse: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).
Take this verse at face value. It is the only answer to why even rulers ultimately fail. The human mind is deceitful above all things. Despite millennia of being unable to solve even one of its greatest problems—war, famine, disease, etc.—mankind continues to deceive itself, believing it will ultimately discover these solutions.
While the Bible reveals the why behind the failure of even “great” men, it also holds incredible good news of the only solution to mankind’s woes.
Consider what is written in the Old Testament book of Isaiah: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (9:6).
The “Child” mentioned in this passage is Jesus Christ. Notice He has a government. The next verse states, “Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end…and upon His Kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever” (vs. 7).
Peace has not been increasing since Christ’s earthly ministry. In fact, the opposite has happened—war has increased! Therefore, this Kingdom must yet be established in the future.
Part of how Jesus will rule this coming supergovernment is detailed in verse 6. Most imagine Him as a helpless baby in a manger or a weakling on a cross. Yet the meaning of the original Hebrew words used to describe His characteristics reveals the traits a truly great leader must have (all definitions taken from Gesenius’s Lexicon).
Wonderful: “admirable” and “distinguished.”
Counselor: “to advise, consult, give counsel, purpose, devise, plan.” Under Christ’s rulership, mankind will receive perfect advice and solutions to its problems.
Mighty God: This has a similar meaning to the modern term “strongman.”
Prince of Peace: This phrase connotes “welfare, peace,” “safety,” “health, prosperity,” “quiet, tranquility, contentment,” “friendship,” as well as peace in “human relationships,” “with God,” and “from war.” This is true peace!
With God the Father, Jesus Christ will set up the Kingdom of God, which shall never be destroyed (Dan. 2:44).
During Christ’s time on Earth, He constantly demonstrated real leadership. In the gospel accounts, Jesus was seen to be an exceptional speaker, sometimes teaching crowds of thousands (Matt. 14:13-21). He must have been incredibly effective because they refused to leave even when hungry. In addition, He showed integrity, good judgment and vision—and selflessly put others first. As the account in Matthew 4 demonstrates, He is immune to bribery and corruption.
In short, Jesus Christ is the perfect leader because He possesses perfect character! (Read Hebrews 5:8-9.)
When this supergovernment is established, people will again come from near and far to hear Him teach. At that time, “…many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths…And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:3-4).
Only when all of man’s failed attempts at governing himself are wiped away, and God takes the throne as the all-time ultimate leader, will peace and prosperity finally break out across the globe. These conditions will continue “from henceforth even forever” (9:7).
Man’s long-running search for true leadership will finally be over.
To learn more, read our booklet What Is the Kingdom of God?