Qualities to/not to look for in a true leader
The major problems of Africa are largely to do with failure to formulate and effectively implement sound economic, agricultural, infrastructural, educational, health and environmental policies. The varying characteristics of the African leaderships explain the sources of the failure:
- Leaders are out of touch with the needs and sufferings of their people.
- The seat of power has been occupied for too long by individuals short of ideas and solutions to deal with the economic and social problems facing their people.
- Leaderships are preoccupied with how to preserve their existence rather than the existence of their people.
- Leaderships are more interested in voting themselves into power than the responsibilities that go with the votes.
- Leaderships exist based on tribal, party, religion and regional alliances and loyalty of the security forces rather than their own economic and social records.
- Leaderships accept no opposing views and remain accountable to themselves.
- Leaderships worship and reward corruption rather than fight it.
- Leaderships destroy the educational systems of their countries and sponsor their children to top schools in Europe, USA, South Africa, etc.
- Leaders put the interest of their former colonial masters and big multinational corporations ahead of their own people.
- Leaders are preoccupied “with how to enrich themselves and prolong their rule” by engaging in “short term ill conceived, vote buying, cosmetic policies and programmes that increase poverty and turn the people into slaves”.
Research, based on studies of men and women who shaped history over time (politics and business), identifies characteristics of successful leadership as follows:
- Adaptability – Ability to adapt and incorporate new information and new challenges.
- Charisma – This lies in the personality of a leader and is the “energy, vision and charm of a person which when communicated to others inspires loyalty, enthusiasm and a willingness to go that extra mile”.
- Communicator – Ability to communicate with a variety of organisations, groups and individuals, hold their attention and get them to act on what is communicated clearly and unambiguously.
- Embraces responsibility – A leader must demonstrate full understanding of the weight of their duties and willingness to take responsibility for success and failure. No room for transfer of blame for failure.
- Altruistic – A leader puts the needs of others ahead of his, leads by example and is perceived to be fair and even handed in all actions and decisions.
- Enthusiastic – Shows excitement for the job or responsibilities and because enthusiasm is contagious people will follow.
- Knowledgeable – Possess sound working and up-to-date knowledge of all aspect of the organisation and responsibilities for the purpose of providing guidance and advice and understanding the challenges the organisation and staff face. Great leaders don’t have to be technicians but know how to get the best out of specialist working for them. When Henry Ford set out to manufacture an automobile, he was asked during a press conference in his office why he thought he could be successful in making cars. After all, someone said, “You are not an engineer.” His reply was, “No I am not an engineer, but if I pressed this button under my desk, some of the best engineers in the world will walk through that door.”
- Organised – Leadership often comes with enormous amount of information to collect, interpret and utilise. A leader must therefore be highly organised and structured in the way his/her responsibilities are carried out.
- Consistent – “A good leader is a solid and stable rock which staff can revolve around and refer to while working towards goals”. A leader must therefore be consistent in their approach to responsibilities. Favouritism, mood swings and open dislike are avoided.
- Diplomacy – leadership is not a popularity contest but about carrying out what needs to be done – pleasant or otherwise. Diplomacy and tact are crucial in developing and sustaining supportive relationships and developing team members. Often leadership has to do with “balancing the needs of one group against the needs of another and keeping both groups happy”.
- Role model – A leader must be a role model for followers or subordinates. They must uphold the highest personal and professional standards if they expect respect and support from the followers or staff.
- Emotional intelligence – Daniel Goleman highlighted the importance of emotional intelligence after studying a number of successful leaders. He argues that while the qualities traditionally associated with leadership are crucial, they are insufficient. He identified emotional intelligence as highly relevant and includes the following elements: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social awareness.
- Social intelligence – According to Ambassador Joseph, this refers to the ability to recognize and protect the dignity of difference. He argues that leaders with social intelligence “are the ones who are most convincing in persuading others that diversity need not divide; that pluralism rightly understood and rightly practiced is a benefit not a burden; that the fear of difference
is a fear of the future”.
- Spiritual intelligence – This refers to “the ability to cope with the unexplored, the unexamined
and the unknown; the capacity to transcend the reality we see and to imagine alternative possibilities; and the ability to step back, renew oneself and to find meaning and purpose in our existence (Ambassador Joseph). Spiritual intelligence reminds a leader and would be leaders that they have a role to play as agents of reconciliation and forgiveness. Among the greatest strengths of President Mandela was his ability to “alloy his strong beliefs with patience, charm, self-discipline and an ability to forgive”. He learned the language and history of his oppressors (Afrikaans) in order to understand their culture and concerns.
- Purveyor of hope – In the modern world full of challenges ranging from economic meltdown to terrorism, famine, disease and wars, every county needs leaders who can project hope; “leaders who can look beyond what they see and imagine alternative possibilities. Hope is the ability to look beyond the evidence and to see something deeper and different”.
- Recognition of others’ contributions – A leader looks for and acknowledges the best in his political opponents and enemies. It enriches a leader’s wisdom and places a leader on higher moral ground. It is on record that President Mandela saw in Botha (the architect of apartheid in South Africa) a reflection of qualities he wished to see in himself. Botha was a tough leader, a man clear in his principles, honest in his own way. “And yet Nelson Mandela, who has described apartheid as the second-worst crime of the 20th century after the Holocaust, responded to the news of the death of his former jailer not only with a message of condolence to his family, but expressing his recognition of the contribution Botha had made to peace”.