Leadership must not be confused with a job title or wealth. ‘I manage a multimillion dollar budget!’ ‘I am the head of a big company with a large number of employees.’ These may be true, but are they the result of real leadership or merely a promotion? Do you see your role as a leader or simply to making ends meet? Do people follow your lead or do you just hope they did? Wealth is not the measure of good leadership nor success in life. Inherited or acquired, it must not be mistaken for one’s ability to lead people. Deep pocket buys prestige in Africa. It is no secret that city dwellers see funerals or special events as occasions to go back to their villages to show off. Some share money, others buy drinks, and most act as if they are rich. The poor get manipulated and ascribe to these people an exalted status. Christians are not exempt. But what if Christian leaders chose to do things differently?
I emphasize five areas with the letter ‘C’ of my leadership alphabet. Some may have heard me speak about ten in the classroom or at a conference but let’s focus on five here. These are foundational yet often neglected areas. From tribal leadership to church leaders, leaders ought to know where they are heading and work towards that goal. The letter ‘C’ asks to see and do something about what you see, dream or aspire.
‘C’ is for COMPASS
A compass gives direction and helps the lost find their way. Before GPS devices, hikers depended on compasses and maps to navigate. However, in leadership, it is the purpose, mission statement or well-articulated plan of action. Leaders cannot have their path dictated by the direction of the wind or storms. They must be proactive, interactive, but not aimlessly reactive. Leaders have a vision and lead to fulfill a mission. Great things do not come by happenstance. I have seen too many ‘leaders’ who cannot articulate their mission with clarity. Some say that CNN is the most effective fundraising and recruiting agent for today’s western missionaries. American missionaries with no purpose go where CNN sends, and churches give to where CNN says the need is urgent. There is nothing wrong about responding to world crisis but leaders focus. They are purposeful, not impulsive. To measure or evaluate your work, you must have a clear sense of direction and plan of action. There's a saying that goes ‘we do not plan to fail but only fail to plan.” ‘For where there is no vision the people perish’ (Prov. 29:28a). Dare to have a vision and rally your team for the mission. When the storms come, use your compass, adjust the sail, and you will reach your destination.
‘C’ is for CHANGE
Seasons change, and fresh leaves wither, but some leaders hate change. Take a good look at your headshot when you were in the fifth grade. Look at that cheerful, beautiful, perhaps nerd-like kid. Take a look at yourself in the mirror again and explore what has happened to that child. Change! Change is a necessity for leadership in the 21st century. Change in technology, culture, and skill sets in the workplace are the norm. To change is human. To lead today’s workplace is to be a change agent. Yesterday’s methods may not work anymore so embrace change — change of mindset, resources, and conditions. Change for the sake of change is only good for the chameleon. You need to balance consistency and steadiness with change. People want to feel that you are stable, consistent and able to adapt to new things. Nobody feels secure with too many changes too quickly or when leaders are too unpredictable. The truth is that much of what needs to change in the 21st century is you the leader. The African chief can no longer be the model for leadership. Nepotism and tribalism in hiring practices must give way to real talents to achieve results. We need increased productivity in Africa’s talents.
‘C’ is for CHRIST-CENTERED
Christ-centered leadership is counter-cultural to most African styles of leadership. Christ-centered leaders see their role as humble servants and team members, based upon the doctrine of imago Dei. That all are made in the image and likeness of God regardless of gender, complexion, race or disability. It is conscious of what is pleasing to God and finds no justification to rob Peter to pay Paul. It calls for meekness, but it is not exhibited in weakness. Christ-centered leadership is principled, willing to pay the price for doing what is right. A Christian must embody the spirit of Christ that compels to love, confront evil and work hard to the glory of God. Refuse to call a spade a big spoon and make yourself and your team accountable to God and the people you serve. Too many people hide behind the Spirit, the Bible or God to justify inaction. Christ followers do their job fearless and diligently.
‘C’ is for COURAGE
Leadership requires courage. Too many dreams and visions never saw the light for fear of failure. Lack of courage breeds compromise, lies, and distrust. Leaders need courage to be fair, stand up to the bullies and face failings on their watch. Courage is not only a cardinal virtue in Greek moral philosophy, but it was an important one for leaders in the Bible. One young leader was admonished, “be strong and courageous… Only be strong and very courageous… Do not turn from it (i.e. the law – core principle) to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Jos. 1:6-7). Courage to stay focused undergirds the readiness to confront obstacles on the path to success. Rise above fear, mediocrity and negative voices around you. Courage is not the absence of fear. No! As Nelson Mandela put it, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
‘C’ is for CONFLICT
Conflict can be an indicator of good leadership. To lead real people and allow freedom of ideas is to have conflict. Conflict will always be where people work together. I have often said that leaders who do not experience conflict in the workplace are either authoritarians, cowards running away from honest opinions, or leaders who refuse to listen. How you handle or manage conflict will make it good or bad. For example, conflict of ideas should not be mistaken for personal attacks. It is often the seed of great inventions and innovation. I am not suggesting that troublemakers be allowed to poison the workplace with negativity. Not at all! Such individuals must be dealt with swiftly, sincerely and soundly. Winners do not entertain whiners. Those who cannot work in a team must be let go. You should assure your team that it is healthy to disagree. You need people to disagree with some of your strange ideas as a necessary process that refines thoughts. People bring conflict, but conflict often unveils the unique qualities brought to a team. Learn to embrace conflict and resist the temptation to make it personal.
We are seeing significant progress among young leaders on the continent in recent years. Some are defying the status quo and exhibiting a great sense of direction, consistency, and courage to lead with integrity. I see passion and integrity among many African leaders. Africans need Christ-centered leadership. Word parallels for Christ-centered leadership would include humility, service, diligence, empathy, integrity, compassion, change agent, and the like. Africa will rise with leaders that possess courage; the dark clouds on the ‘black continent’ will vanquish as new leaders radiate the real beauty and spirit of Mother Africa. Do you know any stories of leaders who exhibit qualities of the ‘C’ in the leadership alphabet? Please, share to encourage us below.