Leadership often begins with a manageable portfolio and resources along with laudable traits that need no significant adjustment to flourish over time. Thriving leaders birth growth; growth comes with size, and size has a tendency to come along with the gift of anxiety. Anxiety does raise levels of adrenaline for the ‘type A’ leader and crisis for those who prefer ‘slow but steady’ pace outside the fast lane. It is when productivity meets pressure from responsibility that leaders tend to retreat to obscurity, become reactionary dictators or display their core traits. Most people with a high school diploma would be capable of doing over 90% of what Chief Executive Officers at the top do if they were given the same on the job training. What makes leaders count most lies within the few decisions they make. Just about 5% of what a leader does or does not do is the difference maker. African leaders, like those elsewhere, must rise to the challenge and work hard to make a real difference. This is not about how you feel or what you make for yourself but about lives that are positively impacted as a result of your leadership.
Leadership matters! Just in case you want to know, few people trust those who like to ascribe failings on their watch to external forces. For ‘D’ in my leadership alphabet, I will reflect on certain traits that ‘D’ should recall to cultivate. I tried to explain in previous blog posts that leadership does not start with what you do but with who you are and what you aim to become. I hope that the ‘D’s under consideration serve as triggers for deep reflection, self-assessment and call for action.
‘D’ is for DECISION
Nothing frustrates or kills morale more than a leader who claims to be in charge, who wants to be in control but who is indecisive. Leaders make decisions that affect lives and businesses. I have personally served under leaders who like to control everyone’s work but who take no responsibility for anything that goes wrong. I have also seen leaders who wallow in self-pity or crave sympathy when victims of their ill actions call them to accountability. As a leader, you have the power to make decisions and your decisions have consequences – good or bad. Decide to be decisive, proactive and interactive in your dealings with people. Why should anyone trust a leader whose judgments are rooted in questionable information and marked by many fault lines? Decision making is a deliberate act. Acquire adequate information, pursue truth and invite other thoughts in big decisions. No one person can claim to know more than all team members put together. But ultimately, the decision is yours for good or ill. Learn to know, and knowing will inform good judgment. You cannot be hesitant, tentative and demand trust. Learn to be clear about your decisions, stand by them and trust God for good outcomes.
‘D’ is for DIVERSITY
The world is shrinking as the flaws of isolationism are being exposed in no polite manner. Universities across the world are seeing more students of different nationalities, ethnicities and races. Western students hear ‘strange’ languages on campus as they walk pass Africans and Asians. More and more American college students now prefer a Mandarin class to Spanish or French. Cultural exchange programs are increasingly becoming rampant. The buzz word in the hub of innovation is diversity! Globalization has come to stay and today’s leaders must be prepared to embrace diversity in various forms. Schools must be prepared to promote diversity if graduates are to excel in today’s workplace. Read, engage or cultivate a love for other people and cultures that are different from yours. Be engaged when you hear a different accent; try new foods; visit cultural events that are different. Traveling to many countries is not enough. I have met leaders who were quick to share about their extensive travel experience, but soon after showed a high degree of cultural incompetence. I heard a story about a manager who blatantly showed his racial bias to a colleague only to discover later that the colleague is married to a person of the race in question. The twenty-first century is beaming with radiant lights exposing hypocrites in shocking ways. If a Christian leader truly believes that all people are created by God in His image, then is it too difficult to engage blacks, Hispanics, whites or Asians? Many who claim to believe in the Jesus of middle eastern origin have a prejudice against middle easterners. What a mockery of Christianity. Cultural competency is imperative. Let African leaders rise above sexism and tribalism. Let westerners deal with racism and xenophobia. Let the whole world learn to embrace the ‘other’ – all have value and something to contribute to our world.
‘D’ is for DEDICATION
To be dedicated is ‘to devote wholly and earnestly’ as to a deity, a person or course. Dedication requires commitment and leaves no room for complacency. I have learned that the key to being less self-focused is to be upward-focused. Leaders with a strong commitment to a transcendent reality, something higher than themselves, tend to have a panoramic view of the world from the top and appreciate otherness. As a Christian, it is without a doubt that my surrender to the lordship of Christ shapes my attitude, leadership and sense of obligation to love my neighbor as myself. The fear of God allows for accountability and grounds leaders in humility. It is however not difficult to find leaders who have no fear of God whatsoever. They like to collect and do not give; they have no conscience when they mistreat others and live as if they have the power to determine when and how they die. When leadership is informed by a genuine dedication to God, all people are seen as valuable. I do not suggest that spirituality ought to govern the workplace. No! I mean to propose that a leader who is dedicated to God lives it out and lets that inform dedication to work and to the people God has given him/her the opportunity to lead.
‘D’ is for DELEGATION
Yesterday’s leaders have shared so much about delegation yet not all of today’s leaders find it useful. Like Moses, many are failing, setting themselves up to fail or exhausting themselves until a ‘father in law’ or someone intervenes. The ‘Moses syndrome’ says ‘no one can do it like me.’ Let’s read,
“When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. (Ex. 18: 14-18 ESV)
No one can do it like you. True! The operative word is ‘like’ but not ‘as you.’ Many can do it ‘better’ than you, ‘apart from’ you or ‘with’ you. Insecurity, ignorance, and power-drunkenness are the deadly viruses at work within leaders who refuse to delegate. They trust no one. Their ego is high. They only delegate after they had tried and failed. They micro manage because things have to be done their way. Good leaders mentor others, explore talents and delegate responsibility with the authority to execute. Africans are familiar with the apprenticeship model at many levels; how elders teach younger ones to take over farms, family, cattle, etc. Let’s bring this virtue to the workplace. Provide opportunity, sponsor talented people for training and entrust capable hands with responsibilities. Some will make mistakes and grow from them, and others will surprise you with what they can accomplish. Your inability to delegate tells more about you than anything you perceive of your team members. Admit your insecurity and let go of your desire to control. Others can do it ‘as you’, ‘better than you’ and ‘with you.’ Ultimately, you will get the credit for good leadership. Learn to leave it in the hands of others before they learn enough to leave you alone – delegate!
‘D’ is for DEMONSTRATION
The wise words of Emerson ring true today as it did in 1875 when he first penned it: “what you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” To paraphrase Biblical wisdom, leadership without works is dead; it is lifeless, lethargic and fosters dysphoria. Leaders must avoid hiding behind titles, degrees and looks in order to take the lead. Leaders must lead! True leaders do not whip people from behind to get the job done. Nothing speaks so loudly and emits positive vibes as present, visible and dedicated leadership –one marked by honesty, integrity, and diligence. Talk to a child of absentee parents obsessed with titles and prestige - not parenting, and I will tell you why absentee leadership often breeds low morale and repels great talents. Too many African leaders bear many titles but the truth is that they do less than sufficient amount of work for each of those jobs. They get full time pay for part time or no work. As a young boy, I came across a poster showing the back of a man holding the hand of a boy walking in what looks a like a desert bearing the inscription, ‘whether you know it or not someone is following you – be a good leader.’ No image I can recall has left such a strong impression on my concept of leadership as this poster. Leadership is not ‘a hide and seek game.’ Recruiting, equipping and mobilizing to do what needs to be done requires leaders to be models of what they aspire, inspire and expect. I am privileged to have mentors who taught me about their strengths and weaknesses, and some who went further to point me to their shortfalls and advised me to avoid them. Please, seek to demonstrate your values, passion, and dedication from the front. You will buy goodwill, and your followers will believe that it is the only acceptable way forward.
The letter ‘D’ in the leadership alphabet calls for no drama, discrimination or dictatorship. Leaders cannot underestimate their influence. Our world has so many followers who offer leaders opportunities to make more impact. Never give up with the current trend of rebellion against authority and obsession to satisfy self. Take ‘D’ for drive and delivery as you step up to make a difference. For ‘whether you know it or not someone is following you – be a good leader.’