It is now almost a cliché. The trouble with Nigeria is leadership. When the celebrated novelist Chinua Achebe expressed those thoughts many years ago, Nigeria seemed much better lead then than it is today. So how did we get into this excursion down the path of challenged leadership, and how could we redeem the land at a time when the many troubles of a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Chaotic, Ambiguous) world,is manifest in the covid-19 pandemic, pervasive insecurity, as herdsmen, kidnappers, and terrorist run riot, and the fourth industrial revolution brings both opportunities and challenges from disruption of how things are done efficiently and effectively .
All these highlight a desperate need for leaders to shine the light. It seems to me though, that the answer to the questions may be lurking in our homes, schools, churches and public life, the arena where Leadership is most needed. The answer may be found in how we organize to advance the Common Good through socialization into leadership roles in the family, church, and Society. As I pondered the question of the impact of my time of sojourn on earth, with my 65th birthday days away, I was struck that I made an early decision to try and better understand the phenomenon of leadership. Had to have been the gift of grace.
I thought that my main birthday reflection should be to sharpen the saw some more, as Steven R Corey the author of the 7 habits of highly effective people would say, in reference to his seventh habit. I planned them to reflect from words previously written into two books and I authored, one in the 1990s, and another, about seven years ago. These were an autobiographical reflection: To Serve is to Live, and the other volume was The Art of Leading.
Why do we need leaders? If you consider that many of the life-improving routines of today, were once impossible but are now routine. So whether these be, flying, or the use of microwave ovens, or even the basic post-it you stick up as notes; which were once thought of as thin, not to talk of doable, and are now routine, then we begin to understand how much leadership matters. Prolonged peace, since WW II in a world almost permanently at War, is a tribute to the leadership of the Allied powers which defeated the Axis powers in World War II The web of institutions they built to ensure this went beyond political ones like the United Nations, to Economic ones like the Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank, IMF etc).
This is because they realized Economic problems were critical in fanning the embers of discontent. Central to the motivation of those who lead, is empathy, care for others. This is why emotional intelligence, caring, and empathizing in the way that followers recognize their interest in the heart of those who lead. So, when a personal effectiveness guru like Steven R Covey says that the key to leadership is knowledge and a sense of service, he is essentially saying that knowledge is behaviour that is driven by the belief in acting for the good of others by people who are knowledgeable enough to better decipher the future.
Put more naturally, only a heart that loves and has knowledge can lead. To lead therefore is first to love and to know enough to deploy that love in advance of the Common Good. If leadership seems so atrocious in our country, does it mean we cannot love? Not so, in my view. I think the gift of love is poured out broadly in our land. The trouble is that many who can love in our land are too cowardly so they watch the few with seared consciences and the ambition to grab the state to pursue their material and ego interests. The then use sentiments to generate false consciousness and create moral tribes at War. The good, loving, potential leaders then retreat into a place of neutrality and are thus complicit in the disorder or are sucked into the harvest of hate for the neighbor that traditional politicians promote.
The Good Samaritan, that leader our Lord invites us to emulate, and the ultimate leader role model, Christ himself, who “went about doing good” and has done “all things well” (Mk 7.37) begin to challenge us on what it is to lead. To lead is to Love. So to want to lead is to begin to learn to love. In To Serve is To Live I tried to show that love is service and other centered behavior that can be sacrificial. In the Art of Leading I draw from biblical images of leaders as Shepherd, Servants, Steward and Solicitor. These roles incline the leader to seeking to build trust. This flows from love. As St. Paul reminds us, love is not selfish. We hear this epistle often at weddings. When a polity is dominated by self-seeking narcissist a Civilization is in crisis. It needs to be redeemed and brought to that civilization of love that Pope John Paul II, the saint of our age preached without ceasing.
• Patrick Okedinachi Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership