The Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan, according to media reports, recently argued that ‘U-turns’ are a ‘hallmark of great leadership’ inviting criticism from the opponents cobbled with a slew of jokes at the social media. The contrasting perceptions by the PM and his opponents, therefore, require a well-informed, discursive and non-political analysis of the term ‘U-turn’ alongside an appraisal of the factors that transform it into a positive or negative trait by the leaders based on the practical sensitivities involved.In Pakistan, the notion of ‘U-turn’ seems to be understood as an ‘abrupt reversal’ of the ongoing policy approach in an expected manner. Despite all the negativity associated with the term ‘U-turn’, most of us would perhaps agree that the act inherently challenges the ongoing persistent policy perceptions alongside confronting the status quo based on the arguments of practical wisdom and contextual realities. Many would argue that ‘following certain policy principles’ and ‘keeping promises’ are also crucial factors in ensuring good governance by the leaders. However, several sayings and wisdom quotes highlight the importance of ‘practical wisdom’, such as “all is fair in love and war”. Michael Foot, a former veteran leader of the UK Labor Party, drags this quote into practical politics arguing that “all is fair in love, war and Parliamentary procedure”. It is important to mention that he co-authored, though under a pseudonym, the classic polemic appeasement of Adolf Hitler, ‘Guilty Men’. Here it is not to argue that taking abrupt reversals are always right but, according to this quote, taking U-turns in politics or parliamentary procedures seems justified. However, the real issue is to analyze the conflicting perceptions of the term ‘U-turn’ making it either a good or bad characteristic of a leader. For this purpose, the Aristotelian philosophy provides a base to build relevant arguments. Aristotle in his Book VI of Nicomachean Ethics divides knowledge into three categories or virtues: episteme, techne and phronesis. The term ‘episteme’ or epistemology means scientific knowledge with characteristics of being invariable, universal and context-independent. The notion of ‘techne’ or technology is basically an art and craft having the properties of being concrete, pragmatic and context-dependent. The third virtue is phronesis which, according to Professor Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University, means ‘practical wisdom’ or ‘common sense’. It is pragmatic, variable and context-dependent. A better decision making should ideally incorporate all three virtues of the Aristotelian philosophy.In other words, the decision making involving only one or two virtues may remain flawed and incomplete. For example, if a mosque, church, temple or synagogue catches fire during worship hours; the worshipers would immediately leave the worship to save their lives. Following phronesis, their act is indeed an ‘abrupt reversal’ from their religious commitments in an unexpected manner. It is because the practical wisdom demanded so and all religions would endorse the argument of saving human lives first. This suggests that phronesis acts above everything, even religions, justifying necessary reversals. In everyday life, we are aware of the terms technology and epistemology and their frequent applications. The use of the term ‘phronesis’, however, is very limited in everyday life. Accordingly, the application of phronesis in the decision-making processes is sometimes considered negative, weird and even offensive. The above mentioned three virtues suggest that invariability, universality, contextual relevance, concreteness, pragmatism and practicality are the main ingredients that can help make good decisions. ‘The blind people and the elephant’ is an interesting story to mention here. It states that many blind people were positioned along different body parts of an elephant. Based on their sensory judgments, they were coming up with conflictingly different perceptions of the elephant such as wall, pillar,snake and so on. The story suggests that their ‘limited context’ was way different from the actual context because they were handicapped by blindness and their fixed positions. Therefore, their context to perspective was actually wrong. The person telling them that it is actually an elephant would be a real leader despite the fact he will have to take an unpopular position against the predominant perceptions. But the question is ‘who can tell them that it is an elephant’?In this regard, a real leader will have to take several abrupt reversals to change the perceptions of the blind people and bringing them close to the actual context. His innovative ideas challenging the status quo would be the hallmark of leadership. For example, he can float the idea among the blind people to talk to each other and discuss their observations. This idea actually aims at transforming the individual judgments into an integrated judgment emphasizing phronesis and the truthfulness of their sensual understanding. A real leader will also challenge the obvious conclusions by the majority who think the elephant is, for example, a snake or a wall. A real leader would perhaps argue to listen to each other and identify mutual differences by not rushing to instant judgments sealing them off from each other’s sensory perceptions by floating a counter discourse or ‘U-turn’. These differences have nothing to do with the personality, character, reasoning and technical abilities of the concerned person taking fixed position along a body part of the elephant. It is rather their practical experience under shared privation placing phronesis superior to episteme and techne. The reason for the blind people’s opposition is their fixed imagination about a part of the elephant assuming it to be whole.Based on this story, Charles Hoch from University of Illinois highlights the importance of context to perspective. In his 2002 article “Evaluating plans pragmatically”, he puts forward two approaches in planning: ‘the rational approach’ and ‘the pragmatic approach’. The same are equally applicable in political and economic planning. The rational approach is characterized by precision, objectivity, invariability, and contextual independence. This approach, for example, builds arguments from a government’s performance on the basis of the available data and its analysis. The basis of such analyses could be robust financial, economic, statistical and mathematical analyses making it very hard for the majority to disagree with the findings. The leaders who deviate from these widely accepted rational findings may be ridiculed and subjected to criticism because of the fixed position adopted by the rational analysts. In this context, any abrupt reversal or ‘U-turn’ is very hard to be justified before a majority of people because they are convinced with the analytical arguments floated by the rational approach.The pragmatic approach, on the contrary, is variable, context-dependent, and flexible because it does not represent a fixed position but rather aims at defining the whole context. It is not difficult to argue here that politicians would prefer to adopt the rational approach with a view to becoming part of the government. The real leaders, however, would prefer to follow the pragmatic approach with a view to defining the whole context in terms of long run economic and political planning. In other words, the pragmatic approach challenges the status quo and the long standing fixed beliefs of the majority by floating innovative counter discourses thus bringing the majority close to the actual context. In short, the pragmatic approach adopted by leaders takes more ‘abrupt reversals’.All kinds of economic and political reforms inherently follow the pragmatic approach by challenging the longstanding system of governance. For example, the transformation of several government departments from manual system to automated systems are institutional ‘U-turns’ challenging the long standing fixed and rotten system of governance. In this regard, the reforms introduced at the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), and many other federal and provincial departments are worth mentioning.The manufacturing of state-of-the-art military equipment indigenously by the armed forces is also a result of pragmatic thinking challenging the internationally obsolete technologies. It may not be difficult to argue and deduce that every innovation and invention is indeed a pragmatic ‘U-turn’ that challenges the backwardness of the longstanding beliefs, practices and politico-economic policies. This suggests that taking pragmatic ‘U-turns’ stands at the core of every innovation and innovation is a symbol of entrepreneurial leadership and a catalyst for economic growth. The real leaders who can change the fate of nations politically must be able to learn, de-learn and re-learn by continuously introducing counter discourses, floating innovative ideas and bringing the majority close to the actual context as reflected in the elephant story.The statement of the PM Imran Khan citing ‘U-turns’ as a symbol of leadership appears to be a manifestation that he is politically following the pragmatic approach by challenging the objectivity and precision of the rational approach. This suggests that he may not indeed be following a conceptually invariable foundation based on rigidity and fixed observations. He appears to be a proponent of using flexible practical inquiry against widely accepted pseudo-contextual beliefs, political status quo, invariable ideological perceptions, and conceptually shallow judgments of the majority.He appears to be a pragmatist and pragmatists actually re-describe the widely held beliefs and claims, by taking pragmatic reversals, demonstrating how they accelerate or frustrate specific purposes. It is important to reiterate that a ‘U-turn’ must always be pragmatic. The PM appears to define the whole elephant in a holistic manner thus attempting to convince the majority against their widely held beliefs and perceptions. His argument labelling ‘U-turns’ as a symbol of great leadership is in line with the practical wisdom of the pragmatic approach making phronesis superior to other Aristotelian virtues in political planning, strategic thinking and innovative governance. The approach is reflective of a real leadership making pragmatic reversals; a great characteristic of a leader.The writer is Additional Commissioner, FBR, holding PhD in Economic Planning from Massey University, New Zealand. The views expressed are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgPublished in Daily Times, November 29th 2018.