Friday Sermon: Our Leadership Conundrum

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By Babatunde Jose

The leadership deficit in our country today is a great cause for concern. It is the prime cause for all other deficiencies; structural, infrastructural, power, education, and many others too numerous to count. From the pulpits in our churches and the Minbar in the mosques, at seminars and other fora where the problems of this country are being discussed, the issue of leadership usually fronts the bill. Our readers have therefore become agitated and are asking the pertinent question: Are leaders born or made? In view of the failure of leadership in our country, one is not surprised. This, however, is the most basic and most often-asked question about leadership. The job of leading an organization, a military unit, or a nation, and doing so effectively, is indeed very complex. To expect that a person would be born with all of the tools needed to lead, is a very tall order.

Yet, there are some “raw materials; some inborn characteristics, that predispose people to be and become leaders. What are some of these inborn qualities? Extraversion has been associated with leadership positions and leader effectiveness. There is also evidence that boldness, assertiveness, or risk-taking or sometimes daringness can be advantageous for leaders. Leaders also need to be smart to analyze situations and figure out courses of action: All these are not thought in leadership training camps or ‘man o war’. They are ingrain in individual make-up. Even among business persons, they are traits that are not thought in Harvard Business School. You either have them or you don’t. It is these peculiar traits that separate effective leaders from run of the mill ones. To this extent therefore, we could conjecture that most of the traits that make a good leader are ingrain. For example, intelligence is associated with leadership, but perhaps not general IQ, but social intelligence – understanding of social and political situations and processes; is the component of intelligence that is important for leadership. Finally, some sort of empathy, or ability to know followers, is also advantageous for leaders. The leader must be able to know what followers want, when they want it, and what prevents them from getting what they want. All of the above traits are innate and are not learnt and tend to support the fact that most leadership traits and qualities have to do with the makeup of the man, rather than internalized. Leadership, therefore, being the ability to exercise influence over others for the leader’s purposes, aims or goals, is largely made up of inherited qualities and traits that make men better suited to lead. This leads to the conclusion that most leaders are born. This is supported by what has become known as ‘Great Man’ theory and other ‘Trait’ theories. To suggest that leaders do not enter the world with extraordinary endowment is to imply that people enter the world with equal abilities, with equal talents, said Thomas Carlyle.

There is a significant difference between “learning a skill” and mastering one, in the same way that others are born with amazing musical gifts or athletic talents. They will excel naturally in these areas but others would not.

Born leaders are different from made or artificial leaders. All remarkable leaders have great history behind them. They were leaders from the onset of their journey. Some observers have opined that birth is a natural process and the notion to associate leadership with it is arguable. This is true to a large extent. Hence, they argue that leaders are made not born.

Behavioral Theories believe that people can become leaders through the process of teaching, learning and observation. True, leadership is a set of skills that can be learned by training, perception, practice and experience over time. Leadership learning is lifetime activity. Good leaders seek out development opportunities that will help them learn new skills. This is true of the military, para-military and so on, or managerial positions in corporate organizations. However, no matter the amount of training, some military and managerial personnel will stand out above the rest and in situation that calls for leadership, they will be in front. History is replete with such leaders, such as Patton, Montgomery, Laurence of Arabia and Julius Caesar. 

Can enrolling for a programme on management and leadership makes someone a leader upon completion? Can charisma, influence, integrity and the ability to inspire be taught? Will the granting of a certificate and a few degrees after one’s name make them a leader? These are questions that are begging for answers. Soft skills can be explained, but not implanted. The ability to share your vision takes more than a sophisticated PowerPoint presentation.

Leadership can be learned by anyone with the basics. But an awful lot of leadership cannot be taught. Some do well but others find themselves poorly equipped rendering mediocre results. This much is our bane in this country where we have social deviants, delinquents and miscreants parading as political leaders. People of doubtful and questionable pedigree and foundation. Even when they are learned and schooled, they still lark most of the qualities and traits of good and able leaders. They are people who have imbibed deviant cultures and products of sociological mutations: And like all mutants are never advantageous to the specie: Area boys, cheats, liars, kleptomaniacs and those Awolowo dubbed ‘lost souls’. Yet, there is no iota of doubt that this country of over 180 Million people is blessed with men and women of sound and impeachable characters who have exhibited exemplary leadership in politics and the economy, military and religion. Where are they that we are saddled with charlatans and masquerades?  

Leadership is therefore, an art rather than a science. It is a set of innate traits, refined and perfected over time with education, training and experience.

There is also an aspect of being in the right place at the right time; which could call opportunity. You may be a leader but also a matter of whether or not you are in the position within which your talents can shine forth.

The discussion about leadership also needs to identify the location as well as the environment. Not everyone can be a leader just like not everyone can become a good actor. Some people will never have that aspect in them while others have the latent ability and thus can be taught how to lead. All the books, classes, education and training cannot turn a follower into a leader.

To be a leader in a structured environment, one needs some formal training. Most people can learn to manage well, start a business, lead a project team since good management is based on rules – rules that can be learned and mastered. But, we should remember that Leadership is often a choice. A leader is a person who comes forward to take the challenge. If a leader rises up from the multitude, then that person was already a leader to begin with. Should someone have all the best training, nurturing and opportunities, but would rather be hidden in the crowd, an unwilling participant…not a leader.

Leadership styles varies with maturity, followers and situations.

Leadership attributes will include, among others: “Integrity; charisma, inspirational, visionary, encouraging, positive, confidence builder, dynamic, foresight, effective team building, communicating, coordinating, decisive, intelligent, and win-win problem solver.” These attributes are a combination of personality, character, skill, communicative ability, and emotional intelligence. Therefore, a leader is born, developed, skilled in communications, and cultivated through life experiences.

Remarkable Leaders would include the likes of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Aung San Suu Kyi…etc: Individuals that seek neither wealth nor fame, selfless, loved justice, passionate about people and worked for the greater good of others. Here in this clime we have an acute shortage of such men.

In times like these, may Allah give us men that would rise to the occasion and lead us to the Promised Land; Amen.

Barka Juma’at, Ramadan Kareem and Happy Eid. 

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