Every leader is not a role model and every role model is not a leader

When I was a child, I wanted to be Ingemar Stenmark; when I was a teenager, I wanted to be Svetlana Kitić; when I was a young journalist, I wanted to be Marko Zorko; and when I was a grown-up state administration employee, I wanted to be a good and creative person.

When I was a little girl, I practised skiing in a local sports club but never achieved any noticeable success. A few times, I managed to defeat Nataša Bokal, who was then a member of the mighty Alpetour Ski Club, but that is all. We skied in knitted sweaters and winter jackets that were not windproof and we were always cold. On weekends, I used to wake up at six in the morning and spend Saturday evenings in the basement, with an old iron in my hands, waxing my skis. Maybe this is why today I hate doing the ironing so much. From all the cold, dropping out, medals and falls, I remember only the moment at the Soriška Planina Ski Resort when I saw a god. Skiing past me went Ingemar Stenmark.

He went past, practising a little and all of us children went crazy. We skied behind him and our hearts beat so fast that our very heart rates pushed us back on the slopes. I thought that it was all just a dream, but then I heard on the radio that he was really there because he had stopped on his way to Kranjska Gora. I was so happy to see my role model skiing in the flesh that I went on to have a great skiing season.

Then I grew up into a tall girl whose long legs were too clumsy for skiing, so in my teenage years I switched to handball. I was quite good because I was a head taller than my opponents and I could easily score goals. And in this sport, I also met a goddess. From all the goals, matches, injuries and victories, I remember only a goal in a match against the Olimpija handball club. The match was already over and there was only one penalty shot left. I grabbed the ball carelessly and threw it … I scored a goal in the upper right corner that was worth replaying on the Eurosport channel. But I did not know that my then goddess was watching me, the legendary handball player of the Serbian club Crvena Zvezda (Red Star), Svetlana Kitić, who in 2010 was proclaimed by the International Handball Federation as the best female handball player of all times. The senior teams from the clubs Olimpija and Crvena Zvezda had a real match after ours in the then federal league. As I was leaving the court and passed by the handball goddess, she said to me: “Kid, you did a great job,” and I went completely crazy. Going home by minibus, I felt like I was flying.

I met two world-famous idols in my vain attempts to become Tina Maze and Tanja Polajner. They helped me achieve the maximum possible with my average abilities and gave me enough energy for the following seasons. Then my life went on and I ended up at the Val 202 radio station. Like every other young journalist, I carried out surveys and wrote some unimportant reports, until the evening of the World Trade Centre opening, when Tatjana Pirc instructed me to write a commentary for the morning radio show. I was in the studio at 6.30 in the morning, rattling off my fairly witty observations and a few minutes later I received a call from my then god – Marko Zorko. All he said was: “Who was that? Very good.” And again, I almost went crazy. After that, I thought I could do anything. Later, Marko Zorko and I created the satirical show called Stergo Ergo.

Ingemar Stenmark, Svetlana Kitić and Marko Zorko were and still are idols who inspired me and shaped me. They gave me the energy that young people need. When I was middle-aged, my path led me to the state administration, where I met excellent leaders as well as many average and even problematic ones, who owed their position to political connections or personal acquaintances and skill. But some of them were also great. One of the greatest professionals, who was always motivated, a role model and a great leader, was the now sadly deceased Miran Bogataj. His name was a synonym for excellence, and he lacked the kind of oversize ego that has so flourished in the public administration.

In recent years, role models have somehow wandered away both from my life and the public one. Politics is demonised, ministers come and go, while low level officials stay. With regard to this, I recommend watching the excellent series Yes, Prime Minister, on the relationship between politicians and state employees. Somebody once said to me: “The state is not in crisis when the balance between professionals and politicians is disturbed. The state is in crisis when the balance between professionals and low level unprofessional social climbers is disturbed.

In the state administration, I experienced a lot of this and met some great personalities and many small ones. Unfortunately, I have noticed during all these years that nurturing inspiring leaders has been given too little attention or none at all. Currently, there are too many third-raters in the foreground, dealing with their own existence instead of the existence of the institution and the vision of their role. I too often see leaders who give their subordinates, who are skilled enough to operate submarines, inflatable boats with a Tomos 4 engine. The incompetence and mediocrity of leaders leaders with a strong ego too often destroy the intellectual and creative potential of their subordinates. Despondency grows in silence and darkness like metastases in a body. And this is the hole that will hurt us as much as the banking one.

I once spoke with an American general, who told me that you become a major in the American armed forces after you have completed many hours of special education and training. During this time (around ten years), the person is observed and if they have “leadership qualities”, they are selected for unit commanders, whereas if the person does not know how to work with people, they are sent to the Pentagon, where they write reports. In large systems, people are aware that not every person is meant to be a leader and that not every person can be a leader, even though they may have read something about it. Today the challenge of leadership is even bigger because companies as well as administrations have to find a way for different generations, each with a unique style, to cohabit and cooperate. Nowadays, in the work environment, we find generations of baby boomers who are characterised by a hierarchical, paternalistic type of leadership, generation X, which is closer to the mentoring type of leadership, and generation Y, characterised by partnership.

Smart leadership skills are even more necessary in a country with only two million citizens that need role models, not only in sport, but also in the economy, politics, the health service and public administration. However, every leader is not a role model and every role model is not a leader. But it would be great if these two qualities would from time to time occur in the same person occupying an important position. It is positive that we finally have a female premier, who is certainly working in a difficult situation. Being a young woman herself, she inspires growing teenage girls. I know a twelve-year-old girl who, more than anything else in the world, is most proud of her photograph with our premier now displayed on the notice board in her classroom.

For the young and the young at heart, role models are as necessary as bread and water. They are essential even for those of us who have already grown up, because we can still find energy in photographs of our childhood and teenage idols. I am extremely happy that a young man has entered the scene, who is a role model only because he is so smart and educated. Filip Drnovšek Zorko does not have great muscles, but he does have great brain, a lot of discipline and diligence. And judging from a Twit, which I noticed after his team won the prestigious BBC quiz University Challenge, eleven-year-olds know how to find great role models. Role models that make even those of us who skied on long skis and admired their fathers purr like a cat.


Author: Miriam T. Možgan has always had a big mouth, but as she works in diplomacy, she often has to keep it shut. She embarked upon her career as a mouthy journalist at the Val 202 radio station where, together with Marko Zorko and Marko Radmilovič, she created the satirical show Stergo Ergo. Then she joined the state administration, where she advised defence and foreign ministers and the president on cohabitation with the media so that their relationship would not turn into a failed marriage. Recently, she has been helping to build the foundations for digital diplomacy and trying to promote friendship between nations, especially Slovenia and France, where she currently lives. Follow her on Twitter at @MtM68.


Translated by: Valentina Rebec.

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