Not only are there but a few really good leaders that occupy political positions of power in the world, there are even less that have left legacies that lasted. Of course we can’t fully judge the legacies of some of these leaders as they still remain in power, but the worrying signs are all there – a lack of transparency, gross selfishness, high doses of greed, absurd or irrational statements or promises, a focus on downing the opposition instead of delivering on the nation’s vision, nepotism, fraud, etc. The list, sadly, seems to be endless.
The saddest part of selfish leadership, however, is that the citizens suffer – not only physically (with few job opportunities, poverty, unreliable services, etc.), but also psychologically (insecurity, no clear direction, no hope and feelings of not being listened to, nor understood). The latter generates negative emotions and elicits a sense of helplessness and hopelessness or feelings of neglect.
National leaders need to be focusing on the following important leadership tenets to leave a legacy that lasts:
- Trustworthiness – integrity builds a perception of trustworthiness. Citizens warm to a leader’s credibility and authenticity – the leader’s character and competence are both in place (credibility) and the leader is open and realistic about his/her strengths or weaknesses (authenticity). Nelson Mandela (South Africa) was superb at this.
- Decisiveness – a leader needs to be able to and make decisions when issues get to his/her desk. Most decisions can be made at lower levels if competent senior leaders for every department have been appointed, but decisions of national importance need to be taken with due regard to the welfare of the whole population, wisely and swiftly. A dithering leader confuses and unsettles the citizens. Some national leaders have been very decisive during the COVID-19 pandemic , as in Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa), while others have been wishy-washy at best – they shall remain nameless.
- Vision – a clear “big picture” for the nation, based on the values espoused in the constitution that guides policy-making, budget allocation and respective departmental focus and energy. Nelson Mandela (South Africa) used images and stories to communicate this big picture vision.
- Performance management – the ability to hold each departmental head and employees accountable for service delivery. The key performance areas should be measured for quality, meeting targets and attitude by which the service was rendered. Leaders must model the way here. Justin Trudeau (Canada) self-isolated for two weeks when his wife was diagnosed positive with COVID-19, thus setting the example for the nation of required behaviours.
- Communication effectiveness – constant meaningful communication efforts that relate to the nation’s emotional condition: conversations re vision, values, goals, progress, pain and pleas for compliance. Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand) and Justin Trudeau (Canada) have communicated daily with their respective nations about the progress being made with the COVID-19 virus control and prevention efforts. As a result, their respective nations have managed the pandemic very well.
- Compassion – the ability to listen reflectively, demonstrate conversational emotional intelligence, identify with pain and solicit followership. Barack Obama (USA) had moments of sheer brilliance identifying with grief in the nation.
- Humanness – being real, even to the point of laughing at one’s own mistakes and the demonstration of humility. Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand), a mother of a toddler, has been very open about her role in parenting and has not reneged on responsibilities in this regard – at a United Nations meeting, she was asked why her husband and child had accompanied her and she replied: “Well, I am breast-feeding my child, so I have a responsibility to make sure that I keep it fed and alive”. On another occasion, she was being interviewed for a TV programme, when an earthquake occurred – she remained unruffled and just smiled and laughed about it.
Citizens all over the world are looking for national leaders that can take their respective countries on a journey to greatness – where this greatness is not just measured economically, but also morally, spiritually and socially. If leaders can instil this vision in their people and solicit collaborative followership, then greatness becomes truly attainable.