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When Leadership Needs Transformation

When Leadership Needs Transformation
03 May 2017

Leadership systems are often influenced by culture, religion, gender and socio-political and economic status. Education and training can also be considered to have a significant influence on the development of leadership systems. These elements can be seen to have an ever-increasing contribution to the evolution of leadership systems in businesses and societies. In some cases, they become very serious barriers to the progress of leadership while in others they represent the catalysts for growth and development.

Such competing influences as mentioned above can be harnessed to come up with an authentic and meaningful leadership mentality. A study was conducted recently by Richard Bolden of the Center for Leadership Studies and Philip Kirk from Bristol Business School which explored leadership in Sub-Saharan Africa. The study found that even across the different countries, a preference was shown for charismatic/value-based, team orientated, participative and humane approaches to leadership.

The study found that even across the different countries, a preference was shown for charismatic/value-based, team orientated, participative and humane approaches to leadership.

I like to distill leadership to its very basic form where we consider leadership in the home and in everyday settings without restricting it to business and politics etc and I would like to suggest that existing leadership systems would do well to embrace the findings of the research mentioned above by moving leadership systems away from being exclusive and only set aside for a specific group of people to more inclusive systems. Places like Asia, Africa and Middle East have made significant progress in empowerment of previously marginalized groups like girls, women, rural populations etc, more can still be done so that people can participate in decision making and can aspire for leadership roles and positions within their respective society.

More can still be done so that people can participate in decision making and can aspire for leadership roles and positions within their respective society.

According to a certain female manager who participated in the study mentioned above, African leadership is characterized by the selfish interest of the leader at the expense of the common good. For her, African leadership needs to move from being for personal gain to improving the good of the people and making life worth living for the entire community. Leadership for her is more of a call to serve rather than an opportunity to oppress others and plunder the land as can be seen in some African countries.

Leadership is more of a call to serve than an opportunity to oppress others and plunder the land

In looking at the different styles of leadership practiced in Africa specifically, one would be compelled to admit that there is a need to completely reconstruct and re-communicate the meaning, scope and operations of leadership in order to produce a better society for both the leaders and those they are leading. The following are some of the perceptions propagated by some professionals in Africa on what they expected from a reformed and restructured leadership:

1.    According to a customer sales manager from Zambia, Leadership should be enlarged in scope and not just be seen as a political office of the president, the governors or the royal fathers (in monarchical communities). Every man and woman should be seen as a leader in their families, homes, workplaces and professions. It needs to shift from being the role of politicians and leaders of organizations to the roles of each and every member of the society.

2.    A male Political student from Tanzania suggests that leadership in Africa should start from self-awareness and be more about understanding your capacities and abilities first. For him, leadership levels should be maintained within an individual’s capacity not beyond what they are capable of. Wherever you find yourself and with whatever tool you have at your disposal, you can stand up and lead within your capacity and only move to higher levels when your capacity has increased. One can certainly gather significant experience in leadership from the smaller roles they have played in business or society over a  period of time.

3.    In the view of a female Artist and assistant lecturer from Tanzania, leadership in Africa needs to evolve from being individualistic to being more relational and communal. According to her, if one is really leading people, they should be accessible to them; they should listen to the community and let them inform the leader of their needs. She further suggests that in order to transform the face of Africa, leaders of the community should work hand in hand with the community members and this would lead to correct and accurate leadership.

From Position to Responsibility

Leadership should move away from being about the position to it being a matter of responsibility. One is supposed to be able to lead wherever and whenever the opportunity arises. It is no longer progressive to wait for the positional leaders to take action, it fuels disempowerment and not much can be achieved unless leaders in any small capacity take responsibility. It is important for us to learn to be a leaders even in our own small capacity and stop waiting for an opportunity to have a position before we contribute to the necessary change in our environment.

Law and Order vs Risk of Change

I believe leadership systems across many parts of the world, particularly the developing world, need to move from being about maintaining law and order to having the courage to take the risk of change and embrace new things. We have lagged behind in technological development and modern innovation chiefly due to the fact that our leadership systems seek to protect tradition and culture rather than embracing innovation, creativity and new ideas. Africa has a rich cultural heritage but we need to find a way to fuse this heritage with the innovations and inventions that are available in the 21st century and move the continent to the next level of excellence.

I hope that in discussing these issues we can encourage growth and development of leadership in many developing parts of the world and positively impact the whole world. Africa can still rise to its full economic and political potential as one of the greatest continents in the world, so can other parts of the world. It will all begin with the a transformation of our leadership systems.

If you like this article, please feel free to leave a comment below and share it with your network. The more we discuss these leadership issues, the better our chance of making a difference. You can see more of my work here, but if it works better for you, drop me a message in my inbox, I’d love to have a conversation.

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