One of my greatest leadership coaches in the world is a man called John Calvin Maxwell.
An accomplished American author, pastor and businessman, Maxwell has written more than 60 books, all of them on leadership. In 2005, he set out in his groundbreaking bestseller; ‘Discovering the Leader within you,’ to define what he believes is true and meaningful leadership.
‘Leadership is influence. That’s it. Nothing more; nothing less,’ he wrote. ‘Leadership is not an exclusive club for those who were ‘born with it.’ The traits that are the raw materials of leadership can be acquired. Link them up with desire, and nothing can keep you from becoming a leader. The difference between Management and Leadership is; Making sure the work is done by others is the accomplishment of a manager. Inspiring others to do better work is the accomplishment of a leader,’ he concluded. Maxwell thinks good leadership is the medicine for mismanagement. I agree.
When the world was hit with the shocking news of the passing of Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela nearly ten days ago, I went for this book to try and find out whether or not, Maxwell’s theory and practice of leadership was the true definition of Mandela. Mandela was never a manager. He was a true leader who made sure he did not manage others. He led them to become better. He did not seek to dominate but to be equal among his equals. It is when a society is confronted with a difficult situation like the barbaric Apartheid system that true leaders emerge and take centre stage. These cannot succeed unless they are humble, courageous and willing to serve above self. That is when you will not have situations where leaders betray the cause and their people. The ability to choose between privilege, incentives, rewards for selling out and painful service of the people is the truest test of good leadership.
When Africa fell short of this breed of leaders, we were thrust into perpetual affliction of innumerable problems such as Disease, Wars, Dictators, Poor service delivery, Corruption, Greed and Underdevelopment even in the midst of great opportunities such as great soils, abundant resources, vibrant young people and a growing interest in the continent’s rising hopes by the rest of the world.
If we had good leadership spanning the past 400 years, we should not have missed the big intellectual leaps such as the Renaissance, the Agricultural revolution, the scientific revolution, the Industrial revolution and now the Digital revolution. And because we’ve not been part of the big stories, there have been enormous consequences. By 2012, 60 percent of all research done in Africa was evidently being done in South Africa, largely conducted by ‘white’ South Africans of the age of 50 and above. The rest of us were sleeping. While over 312 patents had been granted in the world, more than a third were registered in Japan and just under a third of them in the United States. Africa was not seriously innovating or keeping most of her patents. In another realm, Europe was topping the rest of the world in borrowing and reading books while Africa was at the tail end. In other words, at the time of Mandela’s death, Africa was not clearly in the knowledge zones of the world; meaning that we were not innovating, patenting, borrowing books, researching, seriously manufacturing or inventing. Instead, as my colleagues cheekily conclude; ‘We were busy manufacturing boys and girls.’
Africa is only scoring high in the wrong areas such in malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, tribalism, intolerance, abuse, nepotism, corruption, presidential palaces, institutional decay, dictatorships, witchcraft, lack of electricity, conflicts, poor roads and railways. Out of the people living with malaria in the world, 92 % lived in Africa territories by the year 2012 with almost half of these living in Uganda. The wonderful African leaders must be congratulated for presiding over this state of affairs in post independent Africa. By 2012, there was evidence of increasing socio-economic and political apartheid across villages, towns and homes in Africa. Opponents of regimes across sub Saharan Africa were resorting to armed opposition and other forms of violence because there was little forgiveness and dialogue across the continent. The language of political communication was ‘annihilation,’ ‘Crush,’ ‘kill,’ and ‘extinguish’ opponents. Villages, towns and families were split in the middle. Villages and towns that did not support incumbent regimes across the continent received less attention in terms of allocation of public resources.
From this state of affairs, you realize that the current and future generation of African leaders face enormous challenges than any other species before. Africa is failing because we lack the right leadership at all levels of society, within our families and the institutions we serve. There’s no problem about with Africa. Instead, there’s a problem with Africans. Thus, in Mandela’s leadership qualities, I see a unique template for future African leaders without which this continent has no future.
In April 2012, I was privileged to be part of a group of 25 young Africans below the age of 39, who were selected to take part in the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellowship Programme, a flagship programme of the African Leadership Institute in South Africa. It is a very prestigious programme that has been attracting a similar number of young Africans drawn from across the continent since it was established in 2006. During this period, we got to interact more closely with Archbishop Tutu and through him, learnt what it should take to move Africa forward. He told us Africa was rising but was also encountering surmountable hurdles only if it wasn’t for many of its leaders caring less about empowering and enabling others to succeed. He said; fighting inequalities, even at the work place, caring, humility, vision, courage, service above self, and passion were the hallmarks of great leaders. To transform Africa, young people have the enormous task of embracing this template with a view to bringing total leadership and awareness to the transformational challenges required to bring Africa to recognize its full potential.
In Mandela, we learn quite a number of these values. We learn the importance of tolerance, forgiveness, self-respect, self-awareness, self-introspection and self-regulation. That good leadership is not about one person. It is never concentrated at the top. Instead, it is a chain of leadership layers in which everyone is as important as the chain of leadership itself. That power is not a possession but a contract that comes with responsibilities. That fame comes not with what you have amassed as result of your elevation to a leadership position but how much you influenced and made your followers acquire capacity and the tools to achieve their dreams and aspirations. That sometimes, good leadership will entail achieving all these at a great cost of personal goals like family and personal safety.
It is therefore not possible that Africa is running out of good leaders. It is rather running out of role models with the sort of values that we will need to craft a different leadership to move this continent forward. And thanks to Mandela. In him we find some useful clues.