Monday, 18 November 2013

(80): "Seven lessons of leadership": An overview (II)

The second important lesson of leadership, according to Professor Gergen is what he calls “A Central Compelling Purpose”. According to him, “just as a president has a strong character, he must be of clear purpose. He must tell the country where he is heading so he can rally people behind him”.  If you look at successful leaders around the world, one thing that becomes clear about them is this sense of purpose. They know the direction they are taking their country to. The message will be so clear that even those who disagree with them will have no option but to support their cause.

In contemporary times you will be talking of world leaders like Mahathir Muhammad of Malaysia, who made his vision clear about transforming Malaysia into a developed country and making sure that the ethnic groups in the country; the Malays, the Chinese and Indians agree to share the same country even if they have reservation about the union. The story of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Malaysia’s neighbour is another interesting story of how purposeful leadership can transform a nation. Within 26 years Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore from a struggling third world country into a developed first world economy.

Within Africa, the vision of Murtala Muhammad, despite leading the country for only six months, showcases leadership with a ‘compelling purpose’. He has achieved in those six months what other leaders could not dream of achieving in eight years. It is not for nothing that the likes of Kwame Nkurma, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara or even the likes of Jerry Rawlings are fondly remembered. Whatever their imperfection, they have demonstrated that leadership must be for a reason, and within the brief period they have been in office, they tried to make a difference.

The third lesson according to Professor Gergen is “A capacity to persuade”, the absence of this quality could perhaps explain the failure of leadership in African countries. How many times did our leaders found it imperative to carry the followership along by trying to persuade them to buy into their programme? A key ingredient of the third lesson is the ability of the leader to be a motivational speaker, one who can win the heart of his audiences, and bring them to his fold even if they disagree with him.

It is quite surprising that under civilian administrations, various African governments will rather employ dictatorial approaches than working to convince their citizens to accept their agenda. Not even in political rallies during electioneering campaign would you see the power of persuasion at work in our continent. With television radio, and the internet at our disposal, yet the energy of political office holders will be spent strategizing on how to rig elections, than convince people even in matters that they can easily swing public opinion in their favour.

The fourth lesson of leadership according to Professor Gergen is “an ability to work within the system”. Different countries have different political systems. But whether in democracy or dictatorship, there are certain mechanisms for checks and balances. There is a procedure for doing business. For leadership to be successful, it should respect these procedures, and never attempt to circumvent it. In fact the ability to work within the framework of the existing political system, whether it is through the national assembly, the judiciary, or abiding by civil service procedure, is a sign of leadership that is well meaning, sincere in its intentions, and ready to leave a legacy for the next generation to follow. Desperation from political leadership to bypass the political system and create its own procedures for short time political gain is a sign of weakness, and a leader that is surrounded by selfish and incompetent advisers.

 The leaders that have succeeded in other countries did not descend from Mars; they are human beings, who just like each and every one of us, where born and brought up by fellow human beings. The difference though is that they possess some of the qualities we have mentioned, while others are battling to understand themselves, before they could even understand the people they lead.

To be continued.

(Views expressed in this and other opinion articles are strictly personal)


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