“How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great” (Bill Bennot)
In their opening paragraph on the topic of ‘leadership’, Wikipedia notes the following: “Leadership, both as a research area and as a practical skill, encompasses the ability of an individual, group or organisation to “lead”, influence, or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organisations. The word “leadership” often gets viewed as a contested term. Specialist literature debates various viewpoints on the concept, sometimes contrasting Eastern and Western approaches to leadership, and (within the West) North American versus European approaches”. Whatever cultural or theoretical approach is adopted, however, the leader’s influence and ultimate success depends on a credible foundation that engenders trust and hope. This is particularly true of political leadership who have millions of citizens in their care – some of these leaders are not capable of fulfilling their assigned tasks because they see their respective roles as opportunities to exert power. When presidents play God, one is reminded of Martin Luther King’s words: “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
While leaders have the power to influence, true leadership is not about the execution of unbridled power, but rather the execution of compassion. It is a character trait that seeks understanding of the plight of citizens and finds ways to alleviate pain. The power of the leader should be in the allocation of funds and the offering of resources for growth and development to uplift citizens, not in creating their downfall. Whilst nation-building is the profound responsibility of every citizen, leaders play a special role in using their power to define the process. As Abraham Lincoln rightly noted: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.
Leadership today requires a huge shift, a purposeful shift, an intentional shift:
- Away from selfishness and greed to generosity and care
- Away from revenge and maliciousness to respect and a recognition of the dignity of the human being
- Away from thoughtlessness to considered approaches that uplift society
- Away from utilising public funds for personal home renovations or other selfish projects to using them appropriately for building facilities for communities
- Away from sitting at the end of large boardroom tables in secure environments to rolling up your sleeves alongside the poorest and most frail in communities
- Away from ignoring human concerns to addressing the things that really matter
- Away from “tribalism” to embracing and valuing diversity
- Away from arrogance to humility and servanthood
- Away from individualism and authoritarianism to collaboration and inclusion
- Away from corruption to honesty and integrity
- Away from conniving shrewdness to authenticity and genuineness
Our world is facing grave threats currently (4 big P’s) – power, poverty, pandemics, and the pollution of the planet. Strong and determined leadership everywhere needs to commit to dealing with these pressing issues collaboratively. Besides our many differences, ideologies and sometimes selfish desires, our very future depends on inclusion and participation from every nation. As the Kenyan Proverb rightly emphasises: “Treat the earth well. It was not given to us by our parents … it was lent to us by our children”.
Leadership power needs to be redefined. True leadership, a leadership that influences and mobilises a population towards greatness, is built on the foundation of credibility, integrity, and compassion. True leadership cares deeply. Authentic leadership demonstrates love, not hate. Impactful leadership engenders trust and hope. As Martin Luther King rightly stressed: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant”.