A key lesson every leader should learn from is the fifth quality suggested by Professor David Gergen: what he calls “a sure, quick start”. Leaders tend to acquire political capital which they need to utilize as quickly as possible. Whether the leader comes through the ballot box, or snatches political power like the military often do, people tend to give the new leader the benefit of the doubt; though not every leader will have the luxury of enjoying that.
If Murtala Muhammad had been slow when he came to power, probably he wouldn’t have a legacy to be remembered for. If Thomas Sankara was so slow at the beginning of his leadership, his name would have been among those leaders whose name might require some “Googling” before understanding who they were. The honey moon period shouldn’t be allowed to evaporate before taking advantage of it.
Leaders tend to have some energy and enthusiasm at the beginning of their tenure. It does not have to be political leadership; it can be the chief executive of an organisation or even traditional ruler. If the time is wasted engaged in dirty politicking, then the impatience of followers and public scrutiny could catch up with the leader, and very few do recover from that.
The sixth quality of leadership, according to Professor Gergen, is “strong, prudent advisers”. This is a key ingredient of successful leadership, but one ignored by many African leaders; advisers tend to be appointed based on political patronage rather than their experience or ability to deliver. In some cases, political thugs are appointed to hold key positions in government. Of course appointing the best advisers may not guarantee success, because the leader must be willing to listen to them, and be ready to accept their criticism where they differ.
A leader should understand his goals, identify the key areas he needs to focus on and ensure that the right people handle those departments. He must have the free hand to exercise judgment. If you take Nigeria as an example, the caliber of people the leaders of the first republic surrounded themselves with says a lot about their intentions. If you look at the cabinet of Tafawa Balewa, whatever their shortcomings were, there were several people in the cabinet, both at the federal and regional levels, who can competently hold the position of Prime Minister or the Premier of their respective regions. Here we are in today, where people who are not qualified to lead a local government are managing a country in Africa.
It is interesting that with the exception of the likes of Dr Nnamdi Azikwe who had a PhD, the leaders of the first republic were school certificate holders, and at best hold a first degree. Yet their in-depth understanding of leadership, and the knowledge they exhibited could not, and would not be matched by today’s mediocre grand certificate holders.
Finally, the seventh lesson of leadership from the perspective of Professor Gergen, is what he calls “inspiring others to carry on the mission”. Mahathir Muhammad, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Mahatma Ghandi, Lee Kuan Yew, Murtala Muhammad, are world leaders whose fellow countrymen always mention with respect and enthusiasm. They have transformed themselves into the founding fathers of their countries, and the countries are still matching on their vision. “The point is that the most effective presidents create a living legacy, inspiring legions of followers to carry on their mission long after they are gone” said David Gergen.
The leaders who understand this articulate a vision that becomes a defining moment in the history of their nations, and even those who disagree with them ended up trying to be associated with them or trying to claim part of their legacy.
As our countries match towards the election of new leaders, public discourse by the media, civil society organisations, and even partisan politicians should focus on leadership by example. Unfortunately, even some of the followers have developed self-defeatist attitude by focusing on who has enough resources to fight for position of power, rather than competence and ability to deliver. Even worse, ethnicity and regional sentiments now guide our choice of leaders rather than honesty, transparency, fearlessness, vision and a clear sense of direction.
Yet, few months after elections, we start crying that things are not going well. The public should understand that one mistake in casting and defending the ballot box would mean four or more wasted years of inept and worthless leadership.
Please offer Dr. Yushau feedback via his email address email@example.com
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