As a coach to many African business leaders, I’ve come to see a number of different leadership styles: the good, the bad, and the darn right ugly. I’ve seen the older folks in “leadership positions”, and I’ve seen those positions occupied by the young people as well. But do the young people of Africa have what it takes to be great leaders?
Being a “young” authority on leadership, it has become quite expected that people ask me about youth and leadership in Africa.
Upon my return to Liberia after five weeks at the YALI Accra Regional Leadership Centre, one of the very first questions I encountered came from a friend I respect highly:
“So Daniel, are African youths ready for leadership positions?”
My response to this question remains unchanged. I think there’s a fundamental issue with the question in the first place. This question associates leadership with a particular position within an organogram. It also speaks to the mindset of many young Africans is it relates to how little of an awareness they have as to what leadership is really about.
Leadership is not about the position you occupy. It is about who you are as individual.
And to be a great leader in Africa you must conquer the quest of leading yourself fully.
The business environment in Africa is changing fast. With this change, comes the increased need for leaders with the attributes, skills, and abilities to take others along through change. And that is fine; except that way too much attention goes on developing those skills and techniques, and very little attention going on developing true character as a leader.
To be a true leader in Africa, you need to realize that ‘who you are’ will always speak louder than ‘what you’re saying’. Stop for a minute and hear that again: Who you are as a person, says more than the actual words that come out of your mouth. The focus is first on your being.
To be a truly great leader – what I call an Optimal Impact Leader, you must realize that the journey is marked with ideologies and practices which are hidden deep inside you, yet are completely responsible for the kind of public leadership you project.
So whether you lead in the corporate world, in public service, or in your own entrepreneurial venture, understand that becoming an optimal impact leader starts with a deeper understanding of who you are as a person. It brings to bear your purpose or calling, your values, and convictions to forge the character, courage, wisdom of an exceptional leader.
Becoming a Transformational Leader
What does it take to lead an organization that has grown to over 2 billion people and continues to thrive and grow over 2000 years after your death?
Two words: Transformational Influence
My all-time leadership model is Jesus Christ. Whether you’re Christian or not, it really doesn’t matter in this conversation; what matters is the lessons that can be learned from Jesus’ style of leadership.
If we learn anything from the leadership style Jesus Christ or even that of the more contemporary leaders that we are all familiar with – Mother Theresa, nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi – the one thing we will quickly realize is that leadership is not about us. It’s about the people we are called to serve.
Sadly, many who want to be, or call themselves leaders in Africa today, are missing the mark. They believe that everything is about themselves and immediate family. They become arrogant, and full of themselves. As a result, the people they lead are quickly disenchanted, and as we’ve seen time and again, it leads to violence and chaos.
But there’s a different kind of leadership – Transformational Leadership. The kind that puts the welfare of the people you lead above self. The same kinds that will make people take off the very shirt on their backs for you if they believe you’re working in the interest of the greater good.
When you’re a transformational leader, you operate form a different set of rules. And the rules are all center on inner transformation. It’s about trust and love for others as much as you love yourself.