Despite the damage colonialism has done to Africa’s capacity for holistic development, the continent is still endowed with enough development potentials that servant leaders with native wisdom may process and deploy to launch Africa into the collective wealth orbit. Africa’s misery isn’t only a function of colonial hang-ups but also the upshot of flawed leadership.
Happy new leadership! Potential and practising leaders might be amused by this New Year greeting. If you consider it witty and a cracker that provokes chuckles, so be it. But humour apart, my greeting is tailored to hint at the necessity for servant leadership approach in African state and organisational leadership practice. Servant leadership, the system of leading people by serving their individual and collective interests, has been the subject of this column for the past three months. I have advocated the infusion of the concept and elements of this leadership approach into leadership practice in Africa, and blamed the continent’s perennial woes partly on the self-serving leadership of the people at the helm.
I argued that in spite of the damage colonialism has done to Africa’s capacity for holistic development, the continent is still endowed with enough development potentials that servant leaders with native wisdom may process and deploy to launch Africa into the collective wealth orbit. Africa’s misery isn’t only a function of colonial hang-ups but also the upshot of flawed leadership.
Two characteristics of servant-leaders were discussed in the December issue. Now, I will outline more characteristics and then round off with a series of questions to help leaders willing to adopt the leadership approach assess their servant leadership potentials and take measures to develop the missing traits and skills.
The characteristics of servant leaders
* Healing - One of the characteristics of servant leadership which is rare in other leadership approaches is its curative potential. A servant leader is a healer of individual and collective pains through his commitment to meeting felt and real needs of the led. Africa parades multitudes of people with broken spirits living with untreated emotional hurts and personality dysfunction. Because he empathises with the people’s deprivations and hurts, a servant leader in an African setting will be genuinely moved to desire and implement sustainable healing mechanisms for the people’s (or organisation’s) “ailments”. Even at the micro leadership level, servant-leaders, in the words of Larry Spears, CEO of the Robert Greenfield Centre in USA, recognise opportunity to “help make whole those with whom they come in contact.”
* Awareness - Servant leaders have self-awareness of whom they are and the uniqueness of their mission. Awareness doesn’t seem an exclusive trait of servant-leaders but its object is. The servant-leader is aware of his servant status and the interests of people or organisation relying on him for a lift or survival. He is informed about what’s going on; and this knowledge helps him base his decisions on facts rather than conjectures. His awareness makes him ever-active. In his essay titled, The Servant as Leader, the American expert in management research, development and education, Robert Greenfield, remarked: “Awareness is not a giver of solace… It is a disturber and an awakener. Able (servant) leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers after solace…” With servant leadership, Africa will be spared the misfortunes of leadership averse to true information, hesitant at visioning, and designed for the shepherd’s comfort.
* Persuasion – Servant leaders are “team players” who gain compliance by persuasion. Yes, they are in charge; but they don’t rely exclusively on formal authority to lead. Rather, they make their people buy into their visions by persuasive communication. Thus, servant leadership will help African leaders avoid repression and appeal to reason to gain cooperation and loyalty. Forced agreements are seedbeds of treachery.
* Conceptualisation - Because they lead by persuasion, servant leaders create and nurture conducive environment for visioning. They work with dreams seeking creative off-hand resolution of present conflicts. They aren’t content with routines; so they encourage others to develop and share visions and welcome novelties. The relevance of this trait to leadership in Africa appears so real. Things have remained fairly the same in many African countries and organisations because leaders and the led live and operate on the present realities. In many African nations, serious visioning and visioners are strangers.
* Foresight – One critical variable in visioning is foresight. This characteristic helps leaders combine hindsights with insights to predict or determine the shape of things to come. Servant leaders have the uncommon ability to forecast the outcome of present actions and anticipate future happenings. They may not always be right; but they aren’t blind shooters. They can read the clouds of change hovering on the horizons of nations and adjust their people and programme before the clouds begin to pour. If African leaders will embrace servant leadership, they will develop this trait and be able to prepare their nations for the shocks of global change.
* Growth – Servant leaders believe that people have potentials for continuous growth and seek to unlock these potentials. In organisations, they don’t see people as mere machines paid for their tangible contributions but as people who have “something else” to offer. Thus, they devise measures and deploy resources to help them grow holistically. Servant leadership in Africa will sensitise leaders to seek all-round development of their people (education, security welfare) for the creation of indigenous human capital that the continent is short of. The current half-hearted selective commitment to human development has unleashed a dearth of manpower and triggered human capital flight.
* Building community – I call this characteristic “internal bonding or cohesion”. Where servant-leadership is in operation, collectivism and unity rule. Servant leaders downplay individualism and seek to band soloists, infusing a sense of community spirit into the people. In the workplace, this characteristic makes the staff flow together like atomic molecules. African people need bonding. The lack of internal cohesion has fostered strife and suspicion rendering development initiatives difficult to implement. Therefore, Africa needs leaders who will employ this servant-leadership characteristic of community building to cancel ethnic and linguistic differences that tend to keep their people apart.
* Stewardship - This is probably the most touching of the characteristics when viewed in the context of African development. Servant leaders have and demonstrate a strong sense of stewardship. A steward is an attendant, a servant, a manager, entrusted with a property or people to keep or tend. “A steward in an organisation”, write Barbuto Jr. and Wheeler in NebGuide (2002), is responsible for preparing it for its destiny, usually for the betterment of society”. Leaders with the stewardship mentality are mindful of their integrity because they know they are accountable to the people or board that appointed them.
If African leaders will imbibe the stewardship characteristic of servant leaders, they will strive to avoid corruption and graft. Without this instinct, an organisation or state may be run as a private estate and on a private agenda.
There are other characteristics of servant leaders; but the ones outlined here are sufficient to set forth the picture of this highly productive method of leading.
Now, you may wish to fill the following questionnaire placing a check in each box where you answer “Yes”. Designed by John E. Barbato Jr and Daniel N. Wheeler’s NebGuide (2000, 2002), the questions seek to find out if you’re a servant-leader already; and if not, you may start on a development programme that will help you become one, soon. If you can tick more than seven questions then you may soon become a servant-leader; if you will go on to develop the other traits. If you tick less than seven questions, you aren’t a servant-leader, you would need to begin developing the traits, learn the skills and work your way up.
Do people believe that you are willing to sacrifice your own self-interest for the good of the group?
Do people believe that you want to hear their ideas and will value them?
Do people believe that you will understand what is happening in their lives and how it affects them?
Do people come to you when the chips are down or when something traumatic has happened in their lives?
Do others believe that you have a strong awareness for what is going on?
Do others follow your request because they want to as opposed to because they “have to”?
Do others communicate their ideas and vision for the organisation when you are around?
Do others have confidence in your ability to anticipate the future and its consequences?
Do others believe you are preparing the organisation to make a positive difference in the world?
Do people believe that you are committed to helping them develop and grow?
Do people feel a strong sense of community in the organisation that you lead?
Africa needs servant leaders. Sign up!