Tuesday, September 3, 2013

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

When Intentions meet Choices, Lasting Consequences are borne

Leadership, in my book – written by a life wrought with diverse experiences, observation, interaction, and experimentation – is the art of influencing oneself or others, through conscious or subconscious thought, speech and action.

It is also the science of 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 is open to constructive critique, and ready for detraction. It must never cower; leadership is not about being afraid of making mistakes. It never embraces failure.

Good leaders look at situations with as objective an eye as the subject of one’s self, or others, can be. They take any mistakes they make in their stride. True leadership, however, also entails never ignoring mistakes made; it is about learning to take them as negative feedback, and using this feedback to better – or completely remodel  the thought, speech and action processes that get one to the point of collision with unforeseen realities.

Leadership is simultaneously the pursuit of abundant  and specific  lessons to learn from, and the sharing of these lessons with others through action or speech. It is the relevant use of these specific lessons learnt, over time, in a holistic sense as per the attendant situation. 

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. These streets are ideas spoken in action that seeks to complement its surroundings, not clash unnecessarily with them.

Leadership is important because whether applied inwardly or outwardly, insofar as it is applied properly, it seeks to identify salient issues and find equitable solutions for them; even if we, personally, emerge to be the problem in hand. In fact, by recognizing that we have a 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; we leave it alone. If we are not at peace with ourselves, it follows that it is simply impossible for us to be truly at peace with our environs, and their inhabitants.

A true leader is cognizant of the fact that they, as well as their community’s world, are influenced by their 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 facet of leadership, it must be complimented by a realistic and wider perspective view of the factors that prevail on any individual or community, for them to be prepared to coexist with others, as well as each other.

This is why I believe that it is essential for any leader to be at peace with their inner selves first. To lead themselves first, before they think of leading – or, arguably, before they are allowed to lead others. The truism goes that we should ‘be change that we want to see’; and while altruism is an admirable quality when applied thoughtfully, including all stakeholders in every step of the thought, speech and actions on the way, the aforementioned truism can hardly be ignored.

Only when the public has become a collective of self-led individuals can development truly be sustainable. Responsibility ceases to be a burning ball to be tossed around; leadership disengages itself from the idea that it is a ‘hot seat’; it becomes a series of personal choices, ones that we learn to embrace and be liable for. When Emotional Intelligence is guided by a 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.’ [1] Instances of misguided altruism would include tribalism, nepotism, racism, classism, and the culture of giving handouts in the name of social responsibility.

Numerous practical examples exist to demonstrate the fact that the handout culture is as much a part of the problem – in Kenya particularly, Africa and the world 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 collision course towards failure. Real value can only be adjudged on 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.

The most important quality a leader should have is that of confident thought and action. 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 leader does not simply lead themselves, or others. Their confidence is infectious, and they engage themselves in the process of showing – not telling – others, how to lead themselves; this sets off a chain of choices for the rest: to lead themselves and others, or not to. Confident leaders lead; others make choices, become leaders, by observing them.

In the global context, leadership also 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.

As of 2013, there are 39 states in the world recognized as the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, HIPCs. A Joint Initiative designed by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and the World Bank, it ‘ensure(s) that no poor country faces a debt burden it cannot manage.’ [2] 

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 – 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? Forget that over 50% of Kenya 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 – made certain choices that have brought them to the point where they are passengers in their own lives. Or have they? Do slums exist more in their inhabitants’ minds than they do in the murky drainage systems, and systemic hygiene cancers standard to slums? 

Do slum inhabitants consider their surroundings ‘poor’ ‘murky’ or ‘unhygienic’? Perhaps most debatable is this question: whether in the mind, or in the environs, who has put the slum in the man?

Finally, ‘a good and lasting legacy’ is my parting shot: it is what true leadership, whether personal, interpersonal or communal, means to me. That when you, as a leader, are gone, those who are left behind are better for your having been; that they have learnt to always be as they were when you were, even when you no longer are.

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

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