Tuesday, September 3, 2013

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

The Essence of True, Pure, and Good Leadership 

Leadership, in my book – written by a life wrought with diverse experience, observation, and interaction – is good, pure and true. It means knowing what one wants in life, and accepting it regardless of any perceived or real consequences; insofar as the individual stays true to themselves, and to their principles.

Leadership should be open to critique, constructive and detractive. It must, however, never cower, because leadership is not about being afraid of making mistakes; it is about never embracing failure. It is about looking at situations with as objective an eye as the subject of one’s self can be, and taking any mistakes made in one’s stride. Leadership, however, entails never ignoring mistakes; it is about learning to take them as negative feedback, and using this feedback to better – or even completely remodel – the thought, speech and action processes that get one to the point of collision with an unforeseen reality.

Leadership is simultaneously the pursuit of abundant – and specific – lessons to learn from; lessons which may in turn be imparted to others. It is the relevant use of these specific lessons learnt over time, in a more holistic sense; for instance, a good learner will contextualize lessons learnt in computer hardware and software communications, as appropriate, in actual human relationships. By realizing, to further elaborate, that while both the technological hardware and software of our times have to exist harmoniously for maximum efficiency, the same lesson can be inferred to stand true for physical and non-physical aspects of human relationships. This can be justified by recalling that machines were invented to make human work easier.

However, leadership does not entail blazing a path for others to follow. This is to say that good leadership, in its purest form, is not a conscious effort, but a lifestyle. 

It is a lonely road; interconnected with narrow boulevards that do not require justification or solicit compliments, but instead seek to complement their surroundings, not clash unnecessarily with them.

Leadership is important because when applied inwardly, it acknowledges that we, personally, are the problem. By recognizing that we have the choice to make in every situation we are faced with, and that we have the ability to deal with these choices’ consequences, we are at peace with ourselves. While global issues such as world peace remain within the dynamics of our day to day lives, eventually, it comes down to a simple truth: we come into this world alone, and we leave it alone. If we are not at peace with ourselves, it then follows that it is impossible for us to be truly at peace with our environs.

The truism goes that we should ‘be change that we want to see’; and while altruism is an admirable quality when applied thoughtfully, the aforementioned truism can hardly be ignored. 

Only when the public has become a collective of self-led individuals can development truly be sustainable. Because then, responsibility ceases to be a burning ball to be tossed around, and leadership disengages itself from the idea that it is a ‘hot seat’. Leadership then becomes a series of personal choices, choices we have learnt to embrace and be liable for.

The most important quality a leader should have is that of confident thought. Indecisiveness, however subtle, is a sign of weak leadership. This is not to say that a leader acts rashly, or worse, brashly; careful thought, drawing from specific lessons learnt in the past, should be applied in the making of bold yet calculated risks. The process must be as expedited and expedient in manner as each presented scenario requires. 

Further, leadership, in the socio-political context, entails the making of leaders. By this I mean that a good community leader does not simply lead themselves, or others. They engage themselves in the process of showing others, through their thought, speech, and action how to lead themselves. They are leaders, and so the rest become leaders through them.

In the global, African and Kenyan contexts, leadership entails realizing that while problems are diverse and situational all over the world, solutions are practically always possible when discourse towards progressive action is encouraged. There is a communal leader in all levels of society, and by finding a way to bridge the gap between these leaders’ access to each other, an equitable solution to specific problems can indeed be achieved. 

It would be instructive to remember, also, that there is no need to reinvent the wheel: especially in the Information Age, where access to information has been greatly increased, locating problem-solving techniques has become far a much easier process. The goal, once these techniques have been learnt, is to apply solutions to real problems, and to have adapted the solutions as per the problems at hand.

The adaptation process, for sustainability’s sake, would further need to be appropriate to the problem’s environment: local capacity of the people affected by the problem would have to be increased through training, and the hardware used made out of locally producible technology. 

In terms of software, which here refers to the thought process involved in seeking solutions, the local capacity would need a change in mindset to understand the solutions developed, ideally through culturally-sensitive trainings in a locally-appropriate language.

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 Pan-African 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 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 sustainable desired objective.

Finally, ‘a lasting legacy’ is my parting shot: it is what true leadership, whether personal or communal, 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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