Yes “Everything Rises and Falls on Leadership”
John Maxwell was right; “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” And at the peak of Africa’s mountainous range of predicaments, is the almost numbing reality of an appalling failure of leadership. Indeed, for more than half a century after gaining political independence, many countries across the continent appear to have perfected the uncanny tendency of replicating inept leaders. It’s these perennial leadership failures that have consigned many countries on the continent to an ignominious position at the bottom of the global development league table.
The Type of Leaders We Know
Many Africans have had first hand experiences living under leaders that have proved inadequate or even disastrous for their countries. They’ve had to contend with leaders without good judgement, foresight, conscience or ethics. They’ve seen leaders without a sense of shame or personal sacrifice, driven by greed and a determination to grab or hold onto power at all costs even if it ruins their countries.
The Type of Leaders We Need
Savoyard philosopher and diplomat, Joseph-Marie, comte de Maistre, was quoted to have stated that “every nation gets the government it deserves”. In matured democracies, this assertion may be tenable even if contentious. But for fledging or pseudo-democracies, I would argue differently, that every country deserve the government and the leader they need. In Africa, we need leaders that can decisively take on and upturn the present and future prospects of their countries. Here are ten types of such leaders.
1. Visionary Leaders
Visionary leaders envision the future for their country and the resource pathway to that future. They are thinkers and imaginative leaders able to anticipate and decipher changing circumstances, from political to economic, technological, environmental and social developments. They are also resolute in harnessing, developing and deploying the very best material and human talents within the country towards achieving their visions for their country. Visionary leaders do not depend on the force of their own power but drive their transformative agendas through collaborative relationships and converts to their vision. They create the enabling environment for citizens to thrive.
2. Aspirational Leaders
Aspirational leaders have ambitious national development agendas. They are determined to see their country grow across all development indices with a sense of urgency. They introduce, enable and execute initiatives that ensure their citizens are healthy, well educated, socially cohesive, and technologically advanced. Aspirational leaders seek global recognition and respect for their countries. They understand that this will only happen when their countries achieve outstanding levels of development. Accordingly, they set and vigorously pursue very high performance targets for social infrastructure, healthcare, education, technology and economic development. They also demonstrate their faith and belief in the country’s capacity and potentials by ensuring that the material resources available to public officers as well as the appurtenances of their offices (vehicles, machineries, fittings and accessories etc.) are limited to only what is produced within the country. Aspirational leaders recognise that international economic competition is war by other means, and their national economies can best compete only when built on the robust foundation of indigenous innovations, creativity and high productivity.
3. Exemplary Leaders
Exemplary leaders walk the talk of good leadership and lead by the examples of their everyday actions. They challenge their followers with their personal discipline and decency, self-sacrifice and doggedness in the face of adversity as well as their prudence and good sense in times of plenty. They are often goal driven and result oriented. Although exemplary leaders are now as rare as kings riding with the cavalry and leading their soldiers into battle, their equivalent in the modern era still carry the battle scars they earned from regular development campaigns on behalf of their people.
4. Agile Leaders
Agile leaders are nimble, versatile and connected with their people. They have keenly tuned antennas actively seeking to explore frontiers of new knowledge, developments and opportunities for their countries and people. They are quick to recognise and promote productive approaches from technological innovations to social changes. They are particularly supportive of progressive and inclusive cultural practices while forcefully denouncing and abrogating destructive, discriminatory and divisive local customs and traditions. Agile leaders are urbane, engaging, contextually perceptive and open-minded. They are not trapped by the parochial bounds of sectarian sentiments and can see beyond the primordial cleavages of their personal backgrounds.
5. Compassionate Leaders
Leaders who genuinely care for their people will always defend their interests against foes within and beyond. They routinely break out of their contrived bubble of executive privileges to get a real sense of what the ordinary citizens experiences on a daily basis. They do not depend on the purified information provided by personal aides or the palace courtiers of their executive offices. They also do not confuse, misconstrue, or equate their personal interests to be the public or national interest. They see themselves not as “Lords” or “Excellencies”, but as public trustees with a duty of care to the people they serve.
6. Leaders with Honour
There is a reason elected leaders in many countries have the prefixed title of “Honourable” before their names. It is based on a presumptive notion (often at odds with reality) that such leaders are truly honourable men and women in spirit and in deeds. A truly honourable leader lives a life built on personal integrity, ethical values, good conscience and convictions. They are often tenacious and tough leaders who say what they mean and mean what they say. They do not seek to game the constitution to extend their tenure in office for instance, or to dilute, corral and appropriate the powers of state institutions for their own whims and caprices. Leaders like this have a visible moral authority and would voluntarily give up power, position, privileges and even their lives rather than break their code of honour.
7. Just Leaders
A just leader is a fair-minded leader who believes in the rule of law and the tenets of equity and equality for all citizens before the law. Such leaders are willing to fight to defend and advance the cause of justice even if it threatens their personal interests. They build, support and reinforce the independence of state institutions to ensure effective checks and balances in government. They understand that injustice undermines the fabric of peaceful coexistence in society and that without justice; the country’s security, stability and prosperity are gravely imperiled. Without just leaders and their respect for the institutions of administrative justice, the social contract between government and the governed is more likely to be violated.
8. Selfless Leaders
Selfless leaders demonstratively put the needs of their country and people first. They do not suffer from the intoxicating spirit of egomania or vainglory. They are also not seduced by the paraphernalia or the material lures of power. They recognize that at the high level of national leadership, the personal acquisition of material wealth serves no purpose beyond the primitive sin of greed. Selfless leaders also recognize that the ultimate judgment on a leader’s life is not one of material wealth or naked power but the kind of legacy they are remembered for; ideally one of being held in high esteem for their transformative contributions to national development.
9. Accountable Leaders
Accountable leaders are open to both self-evaluation and public scrutiny. They regularly engage with citizens and actively seek real time feedback and welcome criticisms. They ensure that the lessons embedded in criticisms are never lost or misconstrued. They do not instinctively react to criticisms or regard critics as enemies to be destroyed. Accountable leaders are not self-absorbed and do not surround themselves with yes men and sycophants. They demand accountability from their aides and cabinet members as much as they support them. They are responsible leaders.
10. Inspirational Leaders
Inspirational leaders have the character and personal qualities that inspire respect, confidence, loyalty, hope and pride amongst their people. They radiate a sense of sincerity, empathy and emotional intelligence for which they earn public goodwill and support even through trying times. Their charisma is genuine and more enduring than that manufactured by professional image-makers. Inspirational leaders are particularly invaluable in troubled times.
A Shot in the Dark?
There are those who may consider naive and unrealistic any suggestion or expectation that leaders with these ten qualities can emerge from the tangles of Africa’s turbulent, ethnic, sectarian and rapacious political divide. Given our recent history, this skepticism is understandable. While it may be uncommon for a single individual to have all 10 attributes, I am convinced that such individuals exist in many countries across the continent albeit mostly as fringe players in private and non-governmental sectors. Indeed, in my career to date, I’ve had the privilege of working with leaders of all sorts, from tin gods to guardian angels. And within this assorted band, there are individuals with the right leadership attributes that I’ve come to respect, appreciate and admire. Readers may also have had similar experiences in their various communal interactions. Perhaps, the more daunting challenge is how to transit such individuals from their mostly apolitical convictions to active political roles.
Leadership is Hard
Still, make no mistake. Leadership is a demanding calling and the leadership journey is fraught with battles, obstacles and temptations that can trip even the most sure-footed individual. This is why there are relatively only a few good leaders whether in public or private establishments. But for those countries, communities or even companies (yes, many of these qualities apply to business leaders too) lucky enough to have them, I would hypothesize that rapid development is more likely where individuals with at least five of these qualities rise to the fore of leadership. For us in Africa however, this is not simply a matter of luck. This is an existential crisis and getting the right leadership for countries in the continent should be the single most important consideration for all Africans within and outside the continent. Because for all our ills and fortunes, Africa will rise and fall on the quality of its leaders.
Napoleon Esemudje is aConsultant and Writer, The University of Birmingham. The text has been adapted from Esemudje’s LinkedIn page