THE BLOG
12/06/2013 01:11 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2014

A 'Lebanese Mandela' Is Possible If...

Nelson Mandela's journey should inspire Lebanese to think not only about the type of leader they need but the type of followers they want to be.

Some people believe that the current political crisis in Lebanon requires a Mandela-inspired leader who transcends religious and party lines. Others argue that Lebanon needs less of a visionary and more of a manager until Syria's crisis is resolved. Then there are the ones that call for a non-corrupt technocrat that favors meritocracy and builds institutions.

The truth is that none of these matter if Lebanese citizens do not take responsibility and become better followers. Even if Lebanon had a thousand Nelson Mandela would people follow them and allow them to lead?

Leaders cannot function without the support of followers. This is why it is misguiding to only think about leadership and it is important to think about the type of followership required in Lebanon. Better followers produce better leaders.

Barbara Kellerman, a professor at Harvard University, distinguishes five different types of followers: Isolates, Bystanders, Participants, Activists, and Diehards.

While it is hard to accurately assess where the majority of Lebanese fall on the followership spectrum, there is no doubt that the current state of affairs leaves a large portion of the population disappointed, disengaged and isolated; while others are engaged at different levels with or against the status-quo.

Since Lebanon's civil war in 1975 the contrast between the silent majority versus louder segments of society has been a core determinant of the country's history. Collective disengagement and pessimism is the source of many of the country's problems. As Lebanon's livelihood is at stake today, its survival depends on the type of followership its citizens decide to embrace.

As Kellerman explains, followers are not only important in how they relate to their leaders but also to each other. If you eavesdrop on any conversation between Lebanese you will quickly distinguish between the hopeful optimist brainstorming ideas that end political gridlock, and the naysayer that dismisses all suggestions as idealistic with a laundry list of reasons to challenge it.

This dynamic among followers is toxic and discourages many citizens to take a more pro-active role. We need a shift in Lebanon from discussing the country's problems -- which everyone know -- to debating practical solutions.

It has been widely said that people will get no better government than they deserve. Every Lebanese citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, is in a position of responsibility - especially today when the country is at a critical juncture. This is why every one of us Lebanese has to step back and reflect on our attitude towards new ideas and the future of our country.

Mobilizing the silent Lebanese majority has become more pressing than ever. It is only then that a "Lebanese Mandela" will emerge.


Georges Pierre Sassine is a Harvard Kennedy School alum. He writes about Lebanon's public policy issues at www.georgessassine.com.