One of the world’s most loosely used words is leadership. Almost everyone thinks of themselves as leaders, and that is what it ought to be. Everyone in society should see themselves as leaders or potential leaders learning what it takes to be a leader. Being a leader is a journey and never a destination based on my experience searching for what constitutes leadership.
For the organisations I have consulted for, I have sold and infused the paradigm of seeing everyone as a leader to achieve a sense of belonging, commitment and assured maximum productivity. In a simple sense, everyone in your organisation is a leader if your team will move in unison to deliver the same objective. For an effective organisation, the drivers, cleaners, receptionists, directors, and other team members are leaders of the processes and activities they do for the organisation. Therefore, they must think, act and work like the owners and leaders. In a transformative organisation, everyone is either a leader or on a journey to being a leader. That has been my work as an executive coach and organisational development expert.
Leadership is a controversial word with numerous meanings; I would like to avoid analysis paralysis and use my friend as an example.
My hypothetical friend, Nonso, sells motor spare parts in the market. He had built his business for twenty-five years, well known and successful in trade volume, size of shops and market influence. He has apprentices who have passed through his mentorships and are independent wholesalers and retailers of motor spare parts in the various markets in Lagos. Nonso’s business strategy is centred on the phrase, ‘there is no permanent friend or enemy in the trade’. Nonso wants to earn enough profit margins, make money, and influence others to live a larger-than-normal life. He is shrewd, focused and knows his business in and out. He wants to maximise the output from the input without limits. He can go to any length in his business relationships to win, and his take-out of the transactions must be larger than everyone’s.
Those who had learnt from Nonso are equally shrewd with the knowledge of the trade of importing motor spare parts. They all have a common opinion about Nonso. This is summarised as ‘what is good for me is good for all.’ Nonos neither does anything for any other things except for his gains. His friendliness or enmity with others is focused on what is in it for me. Nonso listens to WIIIFM (What is in it for me) more than any radio station. He is not part of the market’s association leadership, but with his whims and caprices of personal gain, he can determine who is elected or not. He does not advocate for the market’s environmental sustainability or the well-being of others but wants visibility and uses his staged credibility to manoeuvre his ways. He often refers to himself as a leader in the business, whereas those who have passed through his see him as a user of people, except for a few who are still involved and benefit from his businesses.
Legacy-oriented leaders want to leave something tangible in people, permanently transform society, and live on long after they die
Nonso is a typical example of a boss who sees leading others for their benefit only and sees their positions, influence and built charisma as tools to get whatever they want without minding the impacts on others. They focus on the end game, which is for them and their stooge family and not for the future of others.
Nonso’s ethics and mindsets are also obtained among top-level corporate and political leaders everywhere but most prominently in Africa’s political and corporate space. We have people who display a high level of psychological egoism. Their charisma, utterance and postulations are seen as leaders, but their minds and activities are more inheritance-oriented. They are happier to do things only in the best interest of their immediate family and stooges, the tools they use to achieve their objectives. Unfortunately, that is commonly the structure of leadership mindsets we have witnessed in our political journey, except for a few leaders who have, along the way, combined legacy-oriented mindsets and produced little assistance for their people.
The difference between the likes of my Nonso, be it in the corporate world or governance, is a tiny line I will call the mindset. To the Nonsos, all they want is to give inheritances to their family and possibly have a crumb of leftovers for the people who are tools in their hands. They want to be in political office for life and steal money their tenth generation cannot finish spending at the detriment of the starving masses. They want the same life to continue and make their family the heirs apparent to the throne of governance, just like Ali Bongo of Gabon and Gnassingbé Eyadéma of Togo. There is no sin in having a political dynasty of successors if there are institutions that ensure merits. Unlike in America, where John Adams and George H.W. Bush were a few with their sons elected as presidents, Africa and Asia’s story is not on merit but on force or through the influences of the procurators. We now witness political gladiators replenishing political offices with their children under their influence, money, and power. It is good if their children have not learnt the inheritance mindset from their fathers and can be different by creating a legacy for all.
Legacy-oriented leaders want to leave something tangible in people, permanently transform society, and live on long after they die like Kuan Yew of Singapore. They focus more on people outside their immediate family and sphere of influence. The activities that build legacy and those that make inheritance are not distant cousins. They are only different in the fundamental mindsets that propelled them. The same power, influence and resources being stolen can be used to do projects that benefit more people. The same opportunity given to less qualified family members can be given to more qualified distance persons to achieve efficiency. Leadership activity will become an achievement only if rooted in a soil of legacy rather than inheritance focus.