THE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE: TOUGH QUESTIONS, HONEST ANSWERS.
ADDRESS BY CHIEF DUMO LULU-BRIGGS
On the 7th of July, 2018; at The Sterling Toasmasters Leaders Lounge, Port Harcourt.
Ladies and gentlemen good afternoon. All protocols observed.
I imagine that those who put the topic together want me to give honest answers to the tough questions arising from the challenges of leadership. However, while my answers are honest, I have more questions than answers. Really tough questions. By this I mean it was easier to come up with questions than it was to answer them. Be that as it may, I will in the course of my discussion try to provide some answers to the questions posed by the leadership challenge, by providing some context to the challenges of leadership.
To do this, my presentation will be in three parts. In the first part we will look at leadership to try to give meaning to it, part two will examine leadership at the political level. In the third part, I will present what some researchers have identified as the practices of effective leaders, then I will conclude.
1. What is leadership?
It would perhaps be best to start with what I consider the most important and hardest question of all. What is leadership? And, who is a leader? This is because, if we do not know the answers, we will not be able to identify a leader when one comes along, or worse still, we will fail to lead if the need arises because we do not know what it involves. With leadership, there are no simple answers here.
The Advanced English Dictionary defines leadership as: 1. the activity of leading and 2. the body of people who lead a group. While most discussions on leadership tend to focus on the second meaning, the first is perhaps the more relevant one for this discussion. As such, I am going to wrap the two in one to mean leadership is the “activity that involves a body/group of people leading another group of people or leading the rest of the people”. This means, the leader is the one who leads people. But is this all there is to leadership? I think not!
The whole concept of leadership and identifying leaders, is challenging because there does not appear to be agreement about “who a leader is, what constitute leadership, the qualities of a good leader, whether leaders are born or made/trained. Everybody seem to have a different notion of leadership and who a leader is. The definition above for example, does not tell us why one group is qualified to lead the other, neither where they are leading the other group to, nor are we able to tell how to conclude if the leadership is good or bad. Similarly, why should the group being led follow the leader? Should followers just go ahead and follow their leaders? If not, how can they determine when or not to follow?
Who determines the direction in which the leadership should take the followers? The leader or the followers? If we say the leader, it will presume the followers lack the capacity to determine the direction they want or have to go that is why they need leaders. This cannot be correct, because a leader has to have a follower to be a leader. Else we will be implying that leadership and leaders exist in and of themselves. Arising from this question is another one. Is leadership contextual? That is, does leadership vary across the different sectors of society and the diverse professions? If yes, this will mean there is no leader or leadership style that is fit for all situations.
All these and more is what I believe constitute the “leadership challenge”. The leadership challenge must consider the qualities that define a leader, so we recognise one when we see her/him or know when a leader is succeeding in leading or failing to lead.
I agree with Farida Waziri (2009) that the “leader” is that “one who fosters change”, and not necessarily those who hold formal “leadership” positions. Therefore, we are or will be leaders at some point, time and place. Because leadership is the act of leading people, it is inherently a people and value-based activity. A value based leadership must involve the people being led.
So permit me to ask you the following questions at a personal leadership level.
● What are the most important decisions you make as a leader?
● How do you encourage creative thinking around you?
● Which is most important to you as a person – mission, core values or vision?
● How do you communicate your “core values”?
● How do you encourage others around you to communicate these “core values”?
● How do you ensure your organization or the activities around you are aligned with your “core values”?
● When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how do you determine whom to hire?
● What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
● Is this found in you? The reason this should be found in you is that you, and indeed all of us, are leaders.
● What do you consider the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
● What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
● What is the one behavioural trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?
● What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
● Why is credibility “the foundation of leadership”?
When you consider these questions, if you find either that you have not given thought to these before or you realize that you come short on the yardstick you use to judge others in similar positions, then it is indicative that you have not prepared yourself for leadership at the personal level. This is perhaps why it is difficult to effectively judge leadership by others; we do not have the right values or parameter to judge them. The absence of leadership at the personal level is what manifests as failure/absence of leadership at the societal and national level.
The sum of what I have tried to highlight in this section is that we are all leaders, because leaders are those who foster change. This is the foundation of leadership that involves leading others.
2. Political Leadership
Because most time when we discourse leadership it is in the context of political leadership, I will shift my attention to that now. I am sure if I were to ask, “what is the problem with Nigeria or Rivers State since all politics is local”? most of us will say Leadership! And I agree only to the extent that when we say “leadership” we actually mean lack of leadership. But when we say the problem with Nigeria is leadership, I must ask, what do we mean by leadership in the political setting or context? Above, we have said leadership is the “activity that involves a body/group of people leading another group of people”.
But we also asked if leadership is contextual, i.e. if there is a “one size fits all” kind of leadership. There cannot be a “one size fits all” kind of leadership as the context of leadership varies. The story of Churchill is perhaps a good example of the contextual nature of leadership to illustrate this. This former British Prime Minister demonstrated remarkable success in global leadership during World War II which was in stark contrast to the lacklustre results of his earlier leadership on domestic issues. This was largely because the war context demanded the ability to negotiate among conflicting global political interests, a context the domestic situation at the time did not afford him.
All situations do not, will not and cannot require the same leadership approach or personality. Therefore, when we say the problem with Nigeria is leadership it cannot be the same thing we have discussed up to this point, i.e. an “activity that involves a body/group of people leading another group of people”. A lot of us may disagree with this but we shall see why this is so shortly.
But let us first get some perspective of history to help us understand why leadership and the attitude of those being led is Nigeria’s problem. The history of Nigeria from independence, in particular from the very first military coup of 1966, is a history in the search for effective political leadership, the absence of which has been the bane of our development as a nation. From a generation of brilliant, job-discriminating Nigerians, we have plummeted to a generation of unemployed and unemployable Nigerians. How did we get here? Lack of leadership, which includes you, going by our earlier definition. I am therefore inclined to agree with Babalobi’s (2018) conclusion that the “real issue in our leadership challenge is not a Northern/Southern; Christian/Muslim; or Igbo/Yoruba/Hausa President nor is it restructuring, insurgency/militancy or corruption, but the dearth of selfless and visionary leadership” and I add, the attitude of the led.
But we were once on the path to greatness when we had leaders in the likes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the helm of affairs in the West; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in the East and Sir Ahmadu Bello in the North. These men dreamt great dreams for their regions, and we saw the results. We saw the economic boom. We also once had a Murtala Ramat Muhammed, the six months head of state, who in the short time he occupied the office dared what others couldn’t and haven’t dared to dream. We may have forgotten, but Abuja was his dream.
“Every great achievement is a dream before it becomes reality,” said Henry Kissinger, while reviewing the transformation that Singapore had become. “Singapore’s amazing rags-to-riches story is the story of one man’s vision, and his tenacity in pursuing it to fruition”. Countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and many others that were at the same development level with Nigeria in the 60’s during the peak of decolonisation process have since gone ahead on the human, material and infrastructural development scales.
Leadership plays a key role in the advancement or decay of any human society. It is the foundation that determines progress or the absence of it. It is not the absence of resources that hinders growth or the age of a Nation that determines growth, it is the absence of leadership and I must add the attitude of the people who are led. “Countries like Egypt and India are 2,000 years old but are said to be poor countries, whereas Canada and New Zealand which were insignificant 200years ago are developed and rich countries today.” It also does not depend on the availability of natural resources but human resources. “Japan, for instance has a small, mountainous territory, unsuitable for even agriculture or farming” but it is about the 3rd in world’s economy. She imports raw materials from all over the world and exporting manufactured products. Switzerland does not grow cocoa but produces the best chocolates in the world. At the local level, Lagos and Rivers States were at par at the birth of the 4th Republic in 1999. Lagos had sea ports, we had sea ports, they have domestic and international airports just like us but we had two refineries, aplenty oil and gas which they don’t have, and by military decree, all the multinational oil and gas companies had their headquarters in Port Harcourt. Also, unlike us, in 1999, Lagos State was bedevilled by all manner of security issues as armed robberies, kidnappings and assassinations were almost hourly occurrences at the time PH was the garden city and the State of security and hospitality. I won’t dwell on that today; it was just an appropriate example.
Political leadership is about governance. The UNDP defines governance as the “exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises the mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences”.
Because governance comprises the operational space (mechanisms, processes and institutions) through which citizens articulate their interests, rights and obligations and, mediate their differences, we should understand that governance is the exercise of authority on behalf of a people. Since governance is what political leadership is all about, we may also conclude that political leadership is not just about leading a group of people from one place to another but the “mediation of the operational space to reduce the interpersonal frictions that will certainly arise as citizens pursue and actualize their personal interests, rights and obligations”. This is saying that political leadership should guarantee for every citizen both the freedom and capacity to undertake their legitimate pursuits. Abraham Lincoln said governments“ have to lift artificial weights from the shoulders of men and clear the paths of laudable pursuits for all, to afford all, an unfettered start and a fair chance, in the race of life.”
It therefore follows that we have a yardstick for assessing governance as good or bad. Good governance is among other things, participatory, transparent and accountable. The UNDP will further add that it is also effective and equitable, by ensuring that the voices of the poorest and the most vulnerable are heard in decision-making over the allocation of resources. The standard of good governance therefore becomes the yardstick to benchmark political leadership as good or bad.
But let us go back for a moment to leadership at the individual level. Of the three aspects of governance (economic, political and administrative) defining the processes and structures that guide political and socio-economic relationships, let us consider economic governance for a moment since it has major implications for the quality of life and wellbeing of all. I want to encourage us to assume more actively economic leadership at a very personal level, in line with my earlier comment that we are all leaders.
If, at the individual economic level, we all act to bring about changes, we will be leading. “We have nothing with which to bring about any change” some might say. But I disagree. Essentially, because vision is as fundamental to leadership as integrity. I will argue that we all have vision of how we will like our lives to be. Then you have the first element to changing your quality of life, the first element of leadership at the personal level. Please note that however good the political leadership may be, if the leadership at the personal level is poor, political leadership will not make a lot of difference. We can therefore, not afford to be deficient in the mentality and courage necessary to pursue our aspirations as individuals and as a people. Even when God promised the people of Israel Canaan, they had to go through the wilderness to get there. Attitude at the personal level is key.
However, at the societal level, I agree with many who argue that deficit of political leadership will manifest in worsening conditions of living of the citizenry. Jide Osuntokun, Haruna Wando (2017) says “Leadership plays a pivotal role in a nation’s descent into failure and collapse. The result of failed leadership is that governments are unable to set in place transparent and accountable institutions capable of securing economic progress, governing effectively, and protecting their citizens. This lack of capacity creates opportunities for corrupted elites to model the state to serve their narrow interests, instead of the interests of the citizens. In addition, it provides an opening for political upheavals and crisis, situations that other states, non-state actors, and criminals seek to fill with violent, hostile, or illicit acts. According to Reuben Abati, our “sensibilities have been inured by too much familiarity with tragedy.” But we have to rise above collective trauma, we have to rise above the weight of our history. It is time for us to engineer in a generation, the transition of a people, from poverty to prosperity. The political debate must not spiral into acrimony and paralysis according to Barack Obama.
3. Leadership Practices
Let me conclude by mentioning the five practices of exemplary leadership as identified by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner (2012). The activities listed here are more in line with corporate and political leadership than for leadership at the personal level. However, if you begin by practicing them, it is likely you will rise to the top of corporate and political leadership.
These practices are:
a) Model the Way
b) Inspire a Shared Vision
c) Challenge the Process
d) Enable Others to Act
e) Encourage the Heart
Model the Way refers to the most fundamental way in which leaders earn and sustain credibility. They do what they say they will do. The two parts to this practice require leaders to model behaviour effectively, by clarifying their values. A leader must first find his/her own voice and then clearly and distinctively express their values to everyone around them.
The second practice is to Inspire a Shared Vision. This also is a two-part practice. The first requires leaders to envision the future by imagining and believing in an exciting, highly attractive future for the organization, which they are confident can come true. An exemplary leader is exceptionally good at imagining a future that does not yet exist. The second part of this practice demands leaders share with or enlist others in vision. In order to do this, the leader has to convince people that they understand their needs and value them. Leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue. You must have intimate knowledge of people’s dreams, hopes, aspirations, visions, and values.
The third practice is to Challenge the Process. Most leadership challenges involve a
change in the status quo. All leaders therefore must challenge the current process. The first step in doing this is to search for opportunities to innovate, grow, and improve. This search comes from listening to people around you, and people on the front lines. You must constantly look outside yourself and your organization for new products, processes, and services. The second part of challenging the existing process is to experiment and take risks, despite the possibility of failure. Good leaders look for small victories that can build confidence in their team. Each small win builds confidence in long-term success. Failure is also a valuable learning experience.
The fourth practice is to Enable Others to Act. Success requires a team effort. It requires group collaboration and individual accountability. Enabling others to act entails two things: First, foster collaboration and build trust. Engage all those who must make the project work, including peers, managers, customers, clients, and suppliers. Second, make it possible for others to do good work. Strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence. Good leaders do not hoard power. They give it away.
The fifth practice is to Encourage the Heart. This refers to genuine acts of caring to uplift the spirits of the people on the team. First, recognize contributions. Show appreciation for individual excellence. For example, write a personal note rather than send an e-mail. Second, celebrate values and victories through creating a spirit of community. For example, establish a public recognition program that rewards performance. This serves to align behaviour with the cherished values expressed at the outset.
We need leaders with integrity at all levels of leadership. A leadership that is visionary, inspired and driven by ideas. But most fundamentally, we need a political leadership that has the people’s mandate; that is sensitive to the yearnings and aspirations of the people. A leadership that is accountable and abide by due process. A leadership that renews itself on such social categories as workers, youth, and women. Unless we begin to rethink the leadership question we may not be able to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. The time is now. We can resist invading armies, we cannot resist an invasion of ideas. Let us live in the inspirations of the pressing needs of this present time. “Margaret Thatcher who was most reluctant to wear trousers, nevertheless did so when she knew she would have to climb a ladder.” Let’s be driven by our convictions and not our fears. And the Lord of our weary years and our silent tears, shall answer our cry.
The most important thing I meant to say is THANK YOU and GOD BLESS.