Success or failure of any enterprise rests on who is at the top. Leaders lead, make decisions and know that decisions have consequences. Leadership should not be reduced to a self-serving enterprise and neither should one be an obsessive people pleaser. Africa has promising young men and young women pregnant with ideas and skills that only true leaders can deliver and nurse to maturity.
I will use what I call "Darko's Leadership Alphabet" based on the English alphabet to reflect on leadership in this and upcoming posts. For now, let’s consider the letter ‘A’ of leadership.
‘A’ is the first letter of the alphabet and it is also where a leader should begin as one ponders ‘who am I,’ ‘how do I value people’ and ‘how do I become a leader who makes a real difference? John Maxwell once said ‘if you think you are leading but no one is following then you are only taking a walk.’ The five A’s I have outlined below are only a few of the qualities a leader needs to deliver ‘A’ results.
‘A’ is for ACCEPTANCE
Accept who you are as a leader, your strengths, blind spots and your responsibilities. You are the only one responsible for some decisions. Insecurity is a common thread in leaders who do not accept themselves or responsibility. Insecurity can turn caring colleagues into threats to your success. This is why insecure leaders usually do not have friends. How can you accept others if you do not accept who you are? These leaders compare or envy others under the disguise of competition. ‘The truth shall set you free indeed.’ Accept yourself, accept others and accept your responsibility as a leader. None of us are able to hide who we are as much as we think. The people you lead know who is in charge, his/her style, and competency level. So rise to the challenge by accepting who are and what you bring—the good, bad and ugly.
‘A’ is for ATTITUDE
I have learned that the morale of team members is often linked to my attitude as a leader. This is true even in the classroom. None of us is entitled to having good people work for us. You pay people for working with you so do not treat them as though you are doing them favors. People sense your conception of self and perception of them. Your body language and emotional vibes give out most of what they need to know about you. Some nurse their ego by creating an atmosphere that denigrates other team members. But genuine confidence energizes. Respect attracts respect. Care harnesses a culture of a family. I suggest you do not infect with a bad attitude but affect others by a deep sense of respect and care.
‘A’ is for AWARENESS
To lead effectively is to be aware of your context, your people, and your organization. The art of leadership requires realistic knowledge of your base if you want to maximize outcomes. However, awareness of others or an organization must be preceded by self-awareness. Such awareness could be helpful in choosing who you bring to your team and who is assigned what role. Leaders must endeavor to know the organizational culture and subculture of departments. This may come by being genuinely interested and getting to know even the trouble makers. Honesty, patience, and humility are essential virtues in this quest. Don’t sacrifice lasting outcomes for some nebulous ‘first hundred day accomplishments.’ As a leader, know yourself, who you lead, and your mandate.
‘A’ is for ACCOUNTABILITY
Leaders do not usually do well whenever they claim omnipotence and are unaccountable to anyone. Christian leaders have been susceptible to fall and fail when they have conducted themselves as if they have power over every aspect of their lives. I have learned to lean on God; to be first and foremost accountable to God who knows the secrets of my hearts and calls me to love my neighbor as myself. To be accountable is to acknowledge constantly that there are people looking up to you and laws in the land you must obey. To be accountable is to have or provide accurate assessments and reports to those who need to know. Accountability invites feedback and propels growth. Leadership accountability, however, requires boundaries—know to whom and when accountability is required. I have learned from sub-Saharan Africa that many feel entitled to receive help, salary without work, and possess strong opinions in every matter. Such people must be checked. True accountability at the top positively impacts organizational culture. It nurtures humility, responsibility, and enables leaders to stay focused. It also yields a sense of security and fairness.
‘A’ is for AUTHENTICITY
Do not trust anyone who denies you the opportunity to know him/her. This is true of leaders who deny their members opportunity to know them for who they are. To be authentic is to be yourself. Trust is key in leadership and no one trusts a chameleon to remain the same color at all times. Authenticity is consistency and transparency. The simple measure is – ‘you know you are not authentic when people who know you well do not trust you’. Desist from pretending and never believe that hiding your insecurity and low self-esteem behind a tough persona is a good idea—even children can see through this. If the world needs leaders that are honest and authentic, they should expect a Christian leader to step up. Working with leaders reveals that spinning (not honesty), moral corruption (not integrity), and misappropriation (not sound fiscal management) is sadly too often the case. The sure product of authenticity is trust, and I know that trust is the most valuable capital that a 21st-century leader can possess. Be authentic, and trust will be a natural fruit.
Leaders are everywhere you find people yet not all leaders are leading. The hardest person to lead is yourself. The quest to become a better person will always yield good results in every aspect of leadership—as a mentor, parent, pastor, or director. I hope you find this reflection on the letter ‘A’ in my leadership alphabet helpful. Please, comment on what other areas come to mind as you follow my posts.