Since yesterday, our local news channels and social media are flooded with discussions about PM Imran Khan’s statement on U-Turn leadership. Some PTI officials and fans were seen defending the statement, while the opponents were busy slagging the same.
Leadership being one of the subjects of my core interest, I decided to pull off a short article that is purely based on my own understanding, experience and beliefs, and not to defend the statement on a political ground.
So let’s see once again what the Prime Minister actually said, then I’ll move on to discuss and analyze the said philosophy.
While talking to journalists at the Prime Minister House on Friday, Imran Khan said
“A leader who does not take timely U-turns is not a real leader. Hitler and Napoleon faced defeat as they did not change their strategies according to the situation.”
Fair enough. The statement sounds quite sensible and practical, not a statement that must attract criticism. I believe no sane person on earth could deny that. Then what’s the problem? What’s all this fuss about?
Problem is the word ‘U-Turn’! The label that has been repeatedly put on Imran Khan at various occasions, so much so that some of his political opponents even named him as ‘U-Turn Khan’ and ‘Master of U-Turn’.
What is a U-Turn?
If you ask Google for a U-Turn definition, you’ll find the following results on top
- the turning of a vehicle in a U-shaped course so as to face in the opposite direction.
- a change of plan, especially a reversal of political policy.
Of course, it’s not the turning of a vehicle that I am referring to; it’s the change of plan, especially a reversal of political policy.
Is U-Turn Really Bad?
In general, the term U-Turn is perceived negatively. It implies that the leader either didn’t think before making the decision or a promise, or just don’t care about letting his people down. And that makes ‘U-Turn’ sounds not so good. But here we need to differentiate between the negative aspect of U-Turn and a strategic change – a timely change of a decision based on current situation and circumstances.
In every walk of life, there are times when we need to reconsider our decisions and change the plans accordingly for good. There is nothing wrong in changing your direction if the current one leads to an incorrect destination, or the new one saves you from a certain loss.
In a tweet, Senator Faisal Javed explained this in defense of Imran Khan:
“U Turn” is Evaluation. It is Assessment, Rating, Estimation, Ranking, Weighing up, Consideration, Analysis. Proper evaluation of results (whether to take a U Turn or not) is crucial. There is a huge difference between “A U Turn” and “A Blatant Lie”.
When Leaders Change Their Mind
There is a general perception that leaders do appear weak when they change their minds or change their decisions. We’ve been brought up with the myth that leaders who change their minds are usually pushovers and are easily influenced. That’s not true. It has a lot to do with the intention, and the ultimate goal. Is that change for a personal interest, a result of external pressure, pandering to a certain population or just because it’s the right thing to do?
Here, the obligation to a leader is to really be clear on why the change was required, and not to apologize when it’s an intelligent decision. That might upset certain people, but that’s part of the game. You can’t satisfy everyone at the same time, you have to be rational and do what is right at that point in time.
Comparison with Quaid-e-Azam
On various discussions, people were found giving examples of Quaid-e-Azam, the greatest leader of this nation who never took a U-Turn in his lifetime.
We need to go through the history of sub-continent and learn how Quaid-e-Azam rightly changed his stance over time. We must learn the approach of Quaid-e-Azam when he was pained to see Hindus dominating the Muslims despite his being the staunchest supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity. Despite his combined efforts with Mahatma Gandhi for the Hindu-Muslim cause, this oppression of the Hindus did not cease, he had to change his stance of years and demanded a separate land for the Muslims.
Was that a U-Turn? If yes, then that was probably the best U-Turn in the political history of Indo-Pak sub-continent.
No human is perfect; humans make mistakes. The main thing to focus is your objective, which remains the same. But how to approach the goal may vary with the situation. You need better solutions and changes in your strategy to be consistent on your mission. Sticking to a failed strategy would fail you in your overall mission.
A leader must be fair enough to accept his mistakes, smart enough to correct his decisions, and flexible enough to change so as to adapt to different circumstances. And this must be regarded as a mark of maturity and wisdom, and not to be ridiculed just for the sake of it.
As Winston Churchill once said: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”