Nigeria: The Leadership Nostalgia

Published on 17th July 2006

Right now in Nigeria, several deep pools remain scattered around the shore-line. The tide appears to be out. It can only be a short while, before it starts rolling back in again, along with proof that we are doing the right thing. Trees are pretty good at being trees. Over many millennia they have evolved to reach the peak of their potential. They are a good example of life’s impulse at its most magnificent.  Human beings, by contrast, are not always good at being human. Most manage the “being” part well enough. But if the definition of “human” involves a level of sensitivity or intelligence, it is arguable how many of us fully live up to it.

Why would any two ethereal beings entwine eternally when they can mix and mingle freely with the whole of the universe? No matter how deep the affinity between two people, sooner or later, they will exasperate each other. Tension between the Hausas, Yorubas and Ibos is no proof of incompatibility but human fallibility. It is when we try to tie things up that we lose the thread. The best connections are always voluntary. The use of force will always give rise to more tension.

The greatest leaders are transformational as opposed to simply transactional or  managerial. President Obasanjo must understand why Nigerians demand a humble and natural leader, with right thinking and natural skills of leadership. He must understand why we demand a leader who knows how to use strategic thinking and planning techniques. Someone who appreciates the importance of vision, values, and culture.

We are asking for a President who is in touch with reality and will do good without making noise; a leader who knows how to use accountabilities, performance appraisals and how to build effective teams including representatives, conflict managers, negotiators, mediators, ministers, advisers and ambassadors. We need a true leader who will lead the group not with authority or power, but with philosophy and character.

Nigeria needs a president who knows how to analyze his leadership style and empower others. A leader who knows how to make decisions, communicate effectively, understands the needs of Nigerians both at home and abroad and introduces changes where and when necessary. He should be a leader who knows how to resolve issues, maintain effectiveness under pressure, delegate, support, motivate and provide constructive criticism.

In Nigeria, we don’t always bring out the best in each other. Sometimes we even deliberately stir up a little conflict and controversy, just because something mischievous within us cannot resist the urge.

Leadership is about respecting other people. A leader who lacks respect is of no use to the nation. It’s tough at the top. It’s tough at the bottom, too, but at least the folk down there can have a dream. Those poor people at the pinnacle have no such comforting illusions left. Yet, that’s life for you – big on promise, small on delivery. When we get something good, we need to hang on to it. When we get something bad, we need to push it as far away as possible. And when we are not sure whether what we’ve got is good or bad? Well, if toughness is no clue as to whether we are at the top or the bottom, maybe we are better than we think.

Nigeria needs a president who knows how to give and receive feedback, overcome procrastination and rid his team of time wasters, dream killers and enemies of progress.

Nigerians need a leader who will stop tribalism and nepotism against the poor and needy, say “NO” constructively and negotiate a compromise. President Obasanjo must handover to a leader who will put an end to voodoo politics, crime against children and elderly persons; Someone, who knows how to manage his inner dialogue and how to handle conflict without the use of coercive diplomacy all the time. May the Most High bless our beloved nation.

What makes leaders who start off very nicely to end badly?

Leaders need ambition, confidence, energy and drive to fuel their progression to the top. But once they've got there, what do they do with their attributes? They can't burn them off, like rocket fuel. So where do they channel them? Just how big can an ego get before it derails its owner and the state as a whole? The characteristics that help someone get to the top don't necessarily equip them for a team or leadership role. Leadership success is dependent upon the extent to which leaders are sufficiently and inventively inconsistent to wrong-foot their more consistent opponents. If they are unable to imagine utopias that attract their supporters, they will surely fail; but if the utopias are abstract rather than concrete, unrealistic rather than realistic, then that very utopia may turn into a dystopia, the vision into a nightmare and creation into destruction.

Ambition is good. But many apparently ambitious people are not so much ambitious as competitive, and competitiveness can drive someone to win at any cost. Sometimes pride, ego and stubbornness doesn't manifest itself until you get to the top, reinforced either by success or insecurity.

Why is Africa experiencing a "dearth" of good leaders?

True leaders are hard to find but Africa is blessed with great leaders who are not "yes men." According to Theologian and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, "The purpose of human life is to serve and show compassion and the will to help others." People like serving leaders who get results through others and give them credit for it. Some leaders are light years away from the top level leaders. Leaders build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. And as for what you do with a surfeit of ego once you've reached the top, the answer is simple, great leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great institution. Overt displays of personal success do little to motivate the people who are keys to the long-term health of the institution.

What factors can give rise to good leaders?

There are good leaders who are both inspired and inspiring. Leaders who are able to find and hold vision while enthusing others to share that vision. Leaders who are able to manage chaos and complexity while instilling enough stability to ensure smooth daily operations. Leaders who are able to change direction at the drop of a hat from one imagined future to another – without losing the support of associates or people around them. Great leaders blessed with the ability to manage creatively the emotional impact of constant change. True leaders who are not "yes men" - or "yes women". But how many of them are recognized or allowed to perform or even encouraged to help in building a nation where no man is oppressed.

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