Looking at how important this topic on leadership is, we must first establish the genesis of it. Why do we have to develop such rare qualities in our people and have result oriented leaders in the true sense of the word, if our continent, Africa must access good things of life the rest of the world are taking for granted?
The author of leadership is the ultimate leader himself, our God. In his infinite wisdom from the first chapter of the book of knowledge, he established the leadership of man. He said man should have dominion (rulership) over everything he created. Leadership has it foundation in the word of God and he supports people in leadership with the wherewithal required to succeed if only they turn to Him and advise us their followers to respect people in position of authority.
There has been a serious misconception about leadership and who a leader is. Particularly among Africans, the understanding of who a leader is, still remain unclear to majority of our people. This may be as a result of knowledge gap, or fundamentally because of past tradition. Generally, we refer to people in politics as our leaders when in actual fact; they are just one aspect out of many other areas of human endeavours where one can exercise leadership or authority.
Just as we have political leaders, we also have religious leaders; there are captains of industry, giants in the medical and scientific fields, there are business moguls and accomplished sports administrators.
To make my point clearer, let me use this re-occurring episode between FIFA, the world football governing council and its affiliate members. We know that political leaders exercise some great authority in their respective nations but when it comes to football matters, they either surrender to the authority of FIFA or risk being sanctioned from International football events. This is just to explain the fact that leadership or authority does not reside in the hands of political leaders alone.
If you look at the influence of the Pope (spiritual leader of the Roman Catholics) and the huge followership he commands worldwide you will appreciate the issue I am making here. When great people like Bill Gate or Bill Graham visit nations, even nation’s Presidents get excited to have a good hand shake with them because of the mark they have made in life. They are not in politics; they are just individuals that have distinguished themselves in their respective fields.
Who is a Leader?
I want to define leadership as Bishop David Oyedepo, the President of Living Faith Church Worldwide Inc., captures it in one of his leadership seminars. He said, Leadership is not about leading people it is about taking the lead in your field that makes men refer to you as a leader. He said what makes a leader is the sacrifice made. It is the investment of time, energy and resources that makes a leader. It is taking the lead in your field. No certificate or credential guarantees leadership. It is not occupying a position; it is making an outstanding contribution. It is not in occupying a seat but in accomplishing a feat.
Political leadership is an aspect of leadership. Nobody is voted into a true leadership position. When one is voted into leadership, it is more or less traditional in nature. The reign is temporal and the tenor is defined. It is the outstanding contribution in one’s field of endeavour that makes people in that field refer to him or her as a leader. When you excel in your field for instance, in boxing, others automatically refer to you as a leader. Mohammed Ali the great, in his boxing days, he was referred to as undisputed world heavy weight champion. He was a true leader in the boxing arena. The entire boxing world celebrates and respects such a person as a leader and there is no controversy about it because it’s an accomplishment won not by vote but by feat accomplished.
What makes a person a leader?
From the introductory paragraphs, it is very clear that what qualifies a person to the position of leadership is not people’s popular vote or possession of amazing charisma, but the outstanding achievements in one’s field of endeavor whether sports, politics, business or religion that entitles you to be called a leader.
The following are major characteristics one must possess to qualify as a true leader or climb the ladder of leadership. They are five in nature and similar to what bankers called 5 Cs of credit (Character, Capacity, Condition, Collateral and Capital). In the leadership staircase, the five Cs that would-be leader must compulsorily climb to excel as a leader are Courage, Competence, Character, Commitment and Clarity of purpose.
Before I explain these five unique characteristics that distinguish a great leader from an ordinary leader, let me correct an erroneous believe of some of our people that some people are born into leadership. That is a fallacy. Every great leader, work and sweat hard to achieve his or her feat. It is not an endowment it is an achievement. If you fake it you cannot make it. “Those who face it are those that make it. Good leaders must communicate vision clearly, creatively, and continually. However, the vision doesn’t come alive until the leader models it” says John C. Maxwell. How do they model it? Through courage.
What is courage?
Courage is the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement. Courage establishes leadership. If the leader lacks courage, the people will lack commitment. “Only those leaders who act boldly in times of crisis and change are willingly followed” says Jim Kouzes. I don’t mean bold face, but a bold heart. Without a big heart, you will never make a big mark.
You will notice that in the bible, most of the time when God calls people into leadership position, the first thing God usually demand from His appointees is that they should be strong and courageous. In Joshua Chapter 1 verses 6 to 9 these two requirements were demanded of Joshua three times within those four verses. This underscores the importance God Himself attached to these two elements that guarantees exceptional leadership.
Primarily, you have to be strong in character and absolutely courageous to succeed in any leadership position. Andy Stanley, author of “The Next Generation Leader” says ‘Leaders are not always first to see an opportunity. They are simply the first to seize an opportunity (David vs Goliath). It is the person who seizes the opportunity who emerges as the leader”. He further said that what keeps many would- be leaders on the side lines while good opportunities parable by is not lack of insight. It is lack of courage.
It is the ability of an individual to do a job properly. Another name you can call it is Capacity. This capacity is expressed in terms of knowledge, understanding and wisdom of a leader. These are essential requirements that will not come by accident. It demands extra ordinary input and attention to build the required skills by any person desiring a leadership position. Leadership is all about skill development. The competency of a leader is a product of efficient management of self, task, materials and resources. In Economics it is called 4 Ms (Man, Material, Money and Machine). You must have capacity or competence to manage these factors very efficiently in order to become an outstanding success in leadership.
The irony of the matter with us in Africa is that we have so many people occupying leadership position without any form of competence in these areas. They rely on their common sense that can only produce common result. You never become a true leader without the willingness to pay the required price of leadership. Responsibility is the price to pay for greatness.
Let’s look at the example of two outstanding and competent leaders in the bible, David the King and Daniel the visionary. You will notice that both men are very skilful with exceptional abilities. When they introduced them to their respective Kings, Saul and Belshazzar, they were described as men who are skilful and competent. (1 Sam 16:18 and Daniel 5: 12)
In the case of David, before the epic battle with the “terrorist” called Goliath, he put his credentials forward and described himself as a warrior that had fought lion and a bear. That was a clear demonstration of his competence before the king.
In the African setting, there is no genuine value for skill development or knowledge acquisition particularly once we climb to that exalted office of leadership. This is the reason why we have so many people in leadership in corporate, politics, sports and even religious circle that lacks proper knowledge of what is required to lead their followers out of the doldrums. The people perish because their leaders lack knowledge so says the word of God.
There is no substitute for skill. Prayer cannot substitute for it, fine boy or beautiful face cannot replace it, oratory power cannot be an alternative, neither can character or courage takes its place. It is either you have it or you are a pretender. Leadership is not in the title you wear but in the value you add. It usually comes from the amount of knowledge we have about the subject or the assignment at hand.
This is one of the most difficult areas to explain or identify in a man. You can lead without character, but you won’t be a leader worth following. Character is the will to do what is right even when it hard. Andy Stanley said “Character is all about will power because it requires a willingness to make tough decisions that sometimes run contrary to emotion, intuition, economics, current trends, and in the eyes of some, common sense”. We seem to lack that in abundance in this part of the world. Men of great character are short is supply. Sadly, they are very few in circulation. Character is always on display and when it is fully tested, many always falls like pack of cards.
God in His infinite wisdom gave the pre requisite to qualify for the office of a bishop. Since office of a bishop or overseer is a leadership position in the church setting. I want to suggest that, anyone that desire to enter into any leadership position, be it in the secular setting or spiritual world, should as sa matter of self assessment mark him/herself against the infallible God’s character check list.
He spelt out these requirements, about fourteen of them in 1Timothy 3: 1- 4 “This is a faithful saying: if a man seeks the office of an overseer,he desires a good work. 2 The overseer therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, modest, hospitable, good at teaching; 3 not a drinker, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having children in subjection with all reverence”
Commitment and Clarity of Purpose are other two qualities that one require to function effectively as a leader.
Commitment is the quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. Devotion, loyalty, faithfulness and dependability are those unique attributes would-be leader must possess in addition to the ones already mentioned above.
Commitment is an act, not a word. Leadership is not an issue of interest, it is commitment. Anthony Robins the American novelist said “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you are interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you are committed to something, you accept no excuses, only result.” Vince Lombardi on the other hand looks at commitment this way “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor”
Clarity of purpose or vision
Tom Peters, author of ‘Thriving on Chaos’ said “Chaos and uncertainty are market opportunities for the wise”. You need a clear vision to succeed as a leader. Clarity of vision will compensate for uncertainty in planning. Uncertainty is a component of every environment that calls for leadership. Where you find one, you will always find the other. A good leader will always know how to navigate through difficult situation when there is clear vision. As a leader, you got to be clear even when you are not certain. The only thing we can be certain about is the past because we have data; everything from this moment on is a guess. Once you acknowledge that as a leader, you will be free to make decisions with limited information at your disposal but certainly your purpose and direction must be very clear like a crystal ball.
Black Man’s Leadership selection Criteria
In sharp contrast to what we explained above as global leadership essential qualities, those characteristics that qualify one for leadership position in Africa are not in line with these.
It is not surprising then why we have the kind of leaders leading our businesses, sports, politics and religion in the continent. Our criterion for selection people into leadership position in Africa does not follow international best practices. There is no Jupiter that can make such ludicrous selection process compete favourably with the rest of the world. It is not an issue of colour or race but that of standards.
The five Cs that we use to determine who qualifies for leadership position in Africa are those things that continuously makes it easy for us to produce the kind of leaders we have. It is most unfortunate that in 21st Century we are still coming out with our usual abysmal performance in all fields of human endeavors we were known for since the beginning of human civilization.
What are these criteria?
Charisma (appealing, height, dressing, carriage, age) Communication skill (he/she can speak well), Craftiness (smartness), Capital (his rich, he gives, willingness to release), Compromise (concern for the poor). These are things our people considered important that we want to see in our leaders. They are not essential leadership qualities, but rather they are traits a leader must have in addition to the strong five pillars we discussed thoroughly above.
Do we have leadership succession Plan in Africa?
The answer to this question is a straight no. We do not prepare people for leadership in Africa. A lot of our leaders stumble on power without and psychological, emotional, or physical preparation of any sought. No wonder most leaders in this part of the world have failed and they are still failing.
Leadership is a serious business and for serious minds too. To us in Africa it is a taboo for you to know your successor. They carry the fear that your successor may hurt you or get you out of the way before your time runs out. This same fare usually scares a lot of our people from preparing any succession plan for their business or institution. After their demise, the business collapses abruptly for lack of proper leadership since the successor is not well prepared or trained for new challenges.
The fact is that African man is suspicious of everyone including himself and his own biological children too. They see their office as a sacred office that nobody should ‘eye’ why they are still around. Sometimes they get ruthless and quash any form of “decedent” that may have the intention to take over power from them. It becomes absolutely difficult to groom future leaders when the incumbent is not willing to accommodate trainees to learn while they are still much around.
How do we groom the next generation leaders with this various challenges?
Going forward, I think we should look at our school curricular and syllabus all over and include these essential leadership qualities in our school programmes starting from the secondary school level or any other level depending on the minimum educational requirement needed to qualify for public office or private sector leadership position.
I am talking about sound training on Courage, Character, Competence, Commitment and Clarity of Vision. Sending people to attend 2 to 3 months management seminar at Harvard Business School or any other International training institutions is not enough, they can only complement whatever knowledge they suppose to have acquired before then. You cannot put someone to manage multibillion dollar assets without proper training, indirectly; you are setting him up for failure. You cannot give what you don’t have.
As a country, we should rather have a long term development programme for our people to enable them step into leadership position, well groomed and psychologically prepared for the massive responsibility ahead of them. Joshua worked with Moses for upward of 40 years undergoing coaching and practical training on leadership. Disciples of Jesus Christ learnt the trade from their master for upward of three and half years before they were released to the world.
David was in the palace of King Saul undergoing “internship” for a good period of time as the armour bearer of King Saul. He had the opportunity to learn the decorum within and around the palace before he was promoted to that seat by God. God is a great planner and organised leader extraordinary. We must learn those attributes from our father.
The other two approaches I want to recommend for Africa’s would- be leader is what I called Role Model Approach (RMA) and Self Development Project (SDP).
These two methods were practiced by two outstanding leaders in the bible. Joshua the son of Nun used RMA to learn leadership under Moses the great servant of God for so many years. He was a successful leader because he learnt the rope watching and observing the qualities that made Moses successful. I am sure he learnt also the hard part of God that did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land.
David on his own part used SDP, self development why he was alone supervising his parent’s sheep. He developed capacity (competence) that he required to confront heavy weight challenges. It was not difficult for him to conquer Goliath and other adversaries of his when he was promoted to be a leader. He partner with God to prepare ahead of time for the leadership position he eventually attained. He modestly captures that in his famous song, Psalm 23. A song I will gladly recommend to any would- be leader to recite every day and every time to ensure that your leadership success in life is guaranteed.