Unless we have the right leaders doing the right things, Africa may never emerge from the cocoon of misery. Leadership isnít only about who to be; itís also about what to be. A leader is a seer, seeker, servant, strategist, shepherd, sustainer, steward, and spokesman.
The portrait of 21st century Africa is disquieting. While Europe is taming the moon and befriending Mars, Africa trudges on in poverty, disease and illiteracy.
Barring the multinational and partnership business ventures, you could rely on your fingers to count the number of indigenous African organisations with one billion dollar operating capital. And, although Europe is almost breasting the tape in the IT and space technology race, Africa seems glued to the starting block.
Yet, as I told New African in an interview (NA, Aug/Sept) tomorrow belongs to Africa. We have the resources, the brain and the brawn. Add all this to the inflow of aid from the West and we might complete in a sprint what cost others a marathon.
But there is a caveat: unless we have the right leaders doing the right things we may never emerge from the cocoon of misery.
Their dearth has imposed painful limitations on our collective existence. It doesnít matter what type of organisation you are in: leadership determines success. It is a critical variable in development calculus; and its dearth is the sole restrictive force that has barred Africa and its people from moving forward and upward.
Let there be competent leaders, as many as are needed, and Africa would leap from recession to recovery, from limitation to liberation, from collective doom to continuous boom. The vibrant, dynamic and servant leadership of colonial and early independence years is hardly seen these days.
Look in the socio-political arena of Africa and check on some of the people calling the shots at various leadership levels. Do they all have the sincerity, vision and savvy of Nkrumah, the modesty, selflessness and integrity of Nyerere, the courage and tenacity of Mandela, the Spartan temperance and bravery of Awolowo and the charm and brilliance of Azikiwe? Post-colonial Africa is awash with leaders who misruled their nations, misled their people and misused their resources.
Africa could feed and fund the world; but it has remained poor and stunted. Reason: the continent is starved of right leadership. The dearth of leaders is the cause of Africaís misery.
Leadership is influencing others to accomplish an objective. In the process, the leader keeps the various components of the organisation steady and running so that the set objectives can be achieved.
Here, stated in this simple explanation of leadership, is the basic thing that leaders are needed to do: To birth visions, take the organisation to new heights and ensure it stays alive and runs well. For Africa, (and any organisation) this translates into seven leadership roles.
- Dream. Leaders are needed to birth visions. Visions are dreams about desired future state, an imaginative portrait of change. Without vision, development isnít possible. For example, the people may be dissatisfied with the status quo and begin to press for novelties to turn the tide; but it takes a leader to conceive, characterise and crystallise the change so desired and then construct the mechanism for its realisation.
- Decision. The running of any organisation involves making appropriate decisions. While inputs may come from members, it is the leader who sets the stage, garners the inputs and decides what holds and goes. DecisionĖmaking is the most crucial aspect of leadership. If decisions are wrong, the organisation is heading for storms.
- Direction. A leader leads by giving
others direction. Someone says a leader knows the way, shows the way and goes the way. Thus, without a leader an organisation or a people are like a ship without a compass.
- Design. Any organisation runs according to specific designs Ė operations, staffing, training, architecture, wages, and so on. The leader designs the models for all this and decides on their adoption.
- Development. Africaís development is slow because it lacks enough leaders who can conduct diagnostic examination of its moribund institutions and sleepy workforce, and inject them with appropriate revival measures. Without effective leadership, development isnít possible.
- Defence. The threat of the enemy is real. A nation needs some defence mechanism against external aggression just as an organisation needs protection from crippling effects of sabotage from rival companies. A leader is needed to arrange defence and ensure there is a safety zone from where the organisation or nation can operate.
- Discipline. An organisationís workforce requires both reinforcement and sanction to keep productivity high and ensure compliance to work ethics. Motivation helps to keep productivity on the up; but it is discipline that builds an organisationís reputation.
Discipline and corporate control are vested in the leadership. The leader hands out the juicy carrot, but also wields the limber rod.
The foregoing are the basic roles of leaders. They all add up to this: the leaderís duties are about taking the organisation somewhere and ensuring it gets there. Thus, leadership is conceptualised in terms of change and progress. You donít need leaders if you have settled on a plateau and all you want is to ensure that the clock ticks on as usual.
If you have come to rest and deadness, you should get a manager, an administrator, who will ensure that things are done right, including your organisationís burial. If no change is contemplated, no revolution is desired then leaders arenít needed. But if you are seeking some sort of dramatic turnaround and a break of stale record, you need someone to make it happen Ė a leader. Africa needs a push; hence the call for leaders.
Leaders have become so scarce because we cop out of raising them. I wonít mention names; but many great past African leaders didnít leave successors. They were voices without echoes. Pick one leader among the great ones you know and see if he has left a lookalike. If African organisations and institutions would create seedbeds for leadership capacity building, we might soon stop bemoaning the dearth of people with the brain and character needed to improve our collective existence.
For example, in my own organisation Ė a multiracial, trans-ethnic movement with about one million membership Ė skill-oriented leadership training is top of our operation agenda. And this has paid off. We donít have a problem of succession when a leader at any critical level leaves. We simply fill the space with someone equally competent.
For, make no mistake: human leaders arenít heavenly creatures waiting for redeployment to the Earth. They are men and women around us who have the latent capacity to move people to achieve a set goal or arrive at a pre-determined destiny. They may be hidden from view; and we may have to pray and advertise to bring them out. But they are out there! They are raw and green and might be unaware of their leadership attributes. But dust and brush them up through purposeful training and send them into the trenches. Youíve got generals out there in front lines.
There is a theory of leadership that accounts for the raising of leaders by this method. It is called the Trait Theory. This theory is similar to another one known as the Great Events Theory. It claims the existence of innate leadership qualities, and attributes the emergence of a person as leader to some great events, which help unlock his potentials and put them into action.
John F. Kennedy provided some support for this theory. He had saved his crew from harrowing death by hungry sharks. The feat made him a hero. When asked how he did it, he replied with a shrug, ďIt was involuntary; they sank my boat.Ē
The application of both theories, however, yields a misleading assumption that leaders are born, not made. Our experience and those of great leaders contradict this claim. Granted that certain leadership traits might be inborn, a lot of leadership attributes are acquired, not inherited. Courage, integrity, character, love, judgement, technical competence are just a few examples.
The most acceptable theory is named Transformational Leadership Theory, which holds that people can choose to become leaders, by learning about the art and science of leadership by formal and informal means. The first step in such a training process is to learn some general things about leadership, which I will outline. For easy grasp, I have used the acronym of the word ďleadershipĒ to outline some basic facts about leaders.
Love. Leaders are lovers; otherwise they risk having treacherous yes-men on board.
Envisioning. Leaders are visionary people; they like moving things forward and are not comfortable with inertia.
Attitude. Leaders have a positive attitude about their tasks, the people and life. They are incurable optimists.
Dynamism. He or she may not look like a muscle builder; but a leader isnít a weakling with a chickenís gait. He has enough brawn for the dayís job.
Empowerment. Effective leaders share their influence and spread their authority down the hierarchical lines. They empower subordinates.
Resilience. Leaders arenít quitters. They may suffer a setback; but they are soon back in the trenches.
Stress Management. Leadership is stressful. But effective leaders know how to avoid burnouts.
Heroism. Leaders harbour a success mentality and inevitably become heroes because they accomplish great things.
Integrity. This relates to moral uprightness. Itís the chief attribute of a leader. Without it a leader loses his worth.
Passion. This relates to strong enthusiasm.
All great leaders are men who pursue their goals with passion.
Leadership isnít only about who to be; itís also about what to be. A leader is a seer, seeker, servant, strategist, shepherd, sustainer, steward and spokesman. These functional qualities speak volumes about the nature and type of leadership that Africa needs. But I reserve the details for another day. g NA
(Dr William F. Kumuyi is the leader of the Deeper Life Bible Church with worldwide headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria. This is the first of a new monthly column he will write for New African).