Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Uongozi: Same Script, Different Words... Pt I

UONGOZI: The Essence of True, Pure, and Good Leadership |

An Essay's first draft...

“Numerous areas in rural Kenya are over three hours’ walking distance from the nearest  watering hole, leaving many Kenyan countryside residents without proper access to clean  water. Water Mobile Cart, WMC, is a weekly service delivery initiative that distributes fresh,  clean water directly to your home for a monthly subscription fee.”

The above are sample problem and solution statements that would feature in a leader’s thought processes. This is because, in my view, leadership means possessing the ability to not only perceive actual problems in a society, but to go beyond them and find suitable solutions. 

In the example above, the leader would seem to have gone further than the simplistic phase of stating a problem and its solution; he considers the fact that for any community to appreciate  and own a solution, they should – ideally – buy into it. 

Numerous practical examples exist to demonstrate the fact that the handout culture is as much a part of the problem, in Kenya particularly and Africa in general, as it has tried to be a solution. 

One of the most widely read and visited urban cases in point would be Kibera slum, in Nairobi. Ironically, many residents of the new Kibra constituency in Kenya may never read a book, or visit any place beyond their own microcosm of life in the slum. 

Whereas the hardware is important to any solution, it is essential to remember that the software is just as crucial, if not critical, to its sustainability. This is to say that any leader who throws money and assets at a problem, without putting in the necessary man-hours in thought, is heading blindingly fast on a crash course towards failure.

Further, the thought process, should it not be inclusive of the people whose lives are affected by the problem, will usually end in disappointment. Leading is as much about listening as it is about thinking, showing and telling. It is also instructive to note that said inclusion would need to come in the planning, execution, and maintenance stages of problem solving. This is what true leadership is about: finding effective ways to involve the community being led, in the journey to their desired destination.

The kind of leadership that is pure, good and true is important because if left to our own devices, we – as Kenyans, as Africans, as citizens of the world – have far too often been the architects of our own destruction. Leadership is about showing, through consistent action, thought and speech, a path towards the betterment of society. Take the following instance, as my second example, into consideration:

“As of 2013, there are 39 states in the world recognized as the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, HIPCs. They have been identified by a Joint Initiative designed by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and the World Bank, so as ‘to ensure that no poor country faces a debt burden it cannot manage.’

Of the 36 HIPCs whose debt reduction package has been approved, 30 are in Africa. By many accounts, there are between 195 and 205 countries in the world. Including the newest country – the Republic of South Sudan – Africa, both continental and islanded, has 54 of these countries.” 

Are we, as Africans, satisfied with having 30 of our own classified as both ‘heavily indebted’ and ‘poor’ countries, in a worldwide list that features less than 40 countries? Should the PanAfrican agenda be proud of this damning statistic? Should we, as Kenyans, be happy that we do not feature in this list? Must we forget that over 50% of Kenya still lives below the poverty line, a line that is as physical in class separatism as it is real in the pain of watching a child go hungry?

Granted, the poor and the hungry, usually one and the same, have made certain choices that have brought them to the point where they are passengers in their own lives. Or have they? 

It is debatable as to whether slums exist more in their inhabitants’ minds than they do in the [1] murky drainage systems, and systemic hygiene cancers that are standard to slums. Even more debatable is whether the slum inhabitant considers his or her surroundings as ‘poor’. But perhaps most debatable is this question: whether in the mind, or in the environs, who has put the man in the slum? 

Only by responding to this question can we possibly claim to have a basis for progression to any desired objective.

The answer to this question, while considering the fact that the slum in question is not only physical but mental, is the most important test of any leader’s capacity to lead. The most important quality a leader should possess is the ability to place himself in the shoes of his people, without forgetting that he has a role that transcends anyone’s personal gratification. This is to say that while the ideal leader must be conscious of his community’s woes, he must also remember that his own personal interests, and those of his people, are compliant to outside forces. 

Bringing together the first and second examples given above, allow me to demonstrate why I believe my statement on the best quality of a leader to be true. 

The initial problem, as stated, is that there are ‘numerous areas in rural Kenya’ which are more than ‘three hours’ walking distance from the nearest watering hole’, and therefore ‘many Kenyans in the countryside’ reside ‘without proper access to clean water.’ A true, pure and good leader will also be cognizant of the fact that his community’s world is influenced by its environment, be it national, regional or international. They will remember this, even as they feel the pain their people live – if not merely exist and survive – within. 

While Emotional Intelligence, defined as ‘the ability to identify, assess and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups’, is a necessary a facet of leadership, it must be complimented by a realistic and perspective view of the factors that prevail on any community, for the community to be prepared to coexist with other communities within its nation, region, continent or the world. When Emotional Intelligence is guided by a realistic and holistic perspective on an all-inclusive path, pathological altruism can arguably be avoided.

Pathological altruism is defined as ‘behaviour in which attempts to promote the welfare of another, or others, results instead in harm that an external observer would conclude was reasonably foreseeable.’ 

Instances of misguided altruism would include tribalism, nepotism, racism, classism, and the culture of giving handouts in the name of social responsibility. This, mind you, is to name but a few. Real value, however, can only be judged on an equitable exchange of significance, where both parties – the leadership and the people led – emerge satisfied.

Good leadership is conscious of this balance in the exchange of value. Therefore, the Water Mobile Cart in the first example would have the vision to enable the community’s self-supplyof water in the long-term; the leadership of WMC would possibly be conscious of the UnitedNations Millennium Development Goals, MDGs; it would also know that water provision to poor communities cuts across MDGs 1 and 7 – that is, first, eradicating extreme hunger and poverty; and seventh, ensuring environmental sustainability. Such knowledge, plus the fact that MDG 8 envisions ‘developing a global partnership for development’ would be vital towards empowering this hypothetical community beyond reliance on the leadership of WMC.

A lasting legacy; that is what leadership means to me. That when you, as a leader are gone, those who are left behind are better for your having been, and have learnt to be as they were when you were, even when you are no longer present.

Should the leadership’s intentions be true to the people’s needs, the choices made based on these intentions purely good, the consequences would be the right legacy; and one that can stand the test of time.

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