In Search of Transformational Leaders

By ‘Wale Oluwade
Why do certain leaders succeed and others fail? What are the attributes that make for exceptionally great leaders? What kind of man or woman is needed as President leading Africa’s most populous nation?  As Nigerians prepare to elect the next president for a four-year tenure,, the choice before is is  very critical. We  can’t afford to miss it.
The leaders who succeed as presidents or prime ministers do so because they possess certain distinctive skills set. These are usually not hard stuff like education, professional and work experience, though these are equally vital. But possession of a Harvard, Cambridge or other Ivy League university degree isn’t a guarantee of leadership success. In my study of transformational leaders, the indisputable evidence points towards certain skills which are weighted far above academic or professional distinction. Modern human resource experts focus more on these latter attributes than the former in hiring top executives. So what are these?
Transformational leaders, in the long run, must be great or excellent in the following so-called ‘soft skills’;
 Strategic Thinking
Anyone who has ever accomplished great and sometimes, even impossible feats, had this strategic capability! Be it Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon. Even Jesus and Mohammed, they had this ability. It is the secret of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Deng Xiaoping, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Barrack Obama and Alex Ferguson. Strategic Thinking is a mindset that allows you to see the invisible and do the impossible. It enables one to explore the immense and limitless possibilities of the human mind! That innate ability to dare where even angels dread to thread.
Before Singapore was transformed from a ghetto third to first world nation, Lee Kuan Yew saw the end in his mind’s eyes. He envisioned the possibility of the new Singapore and was under no illusions as to the daunting task to make it a reality. Yet with this clear objective, he and his team set to task and built a 21st Century miracle out of unimaginable poverty. On the other hand, here we are in Nigeria, still struggling with 5,000 MW of electricity after 58-years post-independence and tens of billions of dollars down the drain with nothing to show for it except darkness.
Strategic Thinking  is the most important of all the skills and competencies you need in life.  “As a man thinks, so he is.” All the battles of life, won or lost, begin and end in the mind. No man can rise beyond the capacity of his mind. Over 300 years after Darwin, life is essentially still about ‘survival of the fittest. It is the fittest mind that ultimately triumpjs in the shark infested oceans of life.
Excellent Team Builder
Great and excellent leaders who truly make positive impact and leave lasting legacy of service and development are able to build superior teams of strong and capable individuals around themselves. In his seminal book, ‘Good to Great’, Jim Collins highlighted the cases of certain leadership models that thrive on the concept of ‘a general and his thousand helps’ which ultimately leads to failure! On the other hand, transformational leaders succeed in building enduring and successful nations or businesses because they surround themselves with extremely capable and in some cases, even far more capable lieutenants than themselves.
George Washington was the first president of the USA but he surrounded himself with John Adams (Vice President), Alexander Hamilton (Secretary of treasury), Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State), and so forth. Suffice to say, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both went on to become the second and third US presidents respectively. Consider Barack Obama, he made Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton, former co-contestants Vice President and Secretary of State respectively, and the latter in my view, won the presidential elections of 2016. Team building is an important skill.  Great leaders want people around them who can look them in the eye and tell them the brutal truths as they are and not fawning courtiers and sycophants who deal in lies and propaganda. Whether it is in politics, business or whatever human endeavor, this attribute is a great and invaluable necessity that separate great leaders from mediocrity.
Win -Win Mentality
Great leaders are winners, but they differ from others in that winning isn’t just about them, but that all, including their supposed enemies or opponents emerge as co-winners. This was the sentiment espoused by Gen. Yakubu Gowon after Nigeria’s civil war when he famously said; “There is no victor nor vanquished!” never mind that perhaps this was mere sloganeering. Also, after the US war of independence with the British, America, deemed it expedient to make Great Britain her major strategic ally and this has endured. Also, at the end of the US civil war, the post-war leaders didn’t treat the southern region as conquered subjects. Likewise, at the end of second world war, the allied powers didn’t set out to destroy Germany and Japan, but did exactly the opposite.
Great leaders have the innate ability to take very hard decisions. As Nelson Mandela  said; “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act even in the face of fear.” There are many sacred cows that have stunted the progress of Nigeria. Until these are eliminated, we will continue in this journey to nowhere: Religion, ethnicity, mediocrity, corruption and injustice.  Until these monsters are slayed, this nation will never attain her potential. Consider religion. There is no other great nation that gives undue attention to religion as we do here. We are so religious we even use tax payers’ money to send thousands on pilgrimage to Israel and Saudi Arabia annually. And how is it that in spite of our loud religiousity, our country is perhaps the most dangerous place to live on earth? We need a man who will slay these monsters.
Great leaders are excellent in the art of empathy. It is so simple yet one of the critical skills that transformational leaders bring to bear in their mission. Take Nigeria and most African countries’ leaders as example. If they were not weird, can anyone explain the dastardly levels of illiteracy, disease burdens, poverty and  unemployment facing our people? If most Nigerian leaders were not unconscionable, how do we explain that Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world? Consider that most of these ‘leaders’ received free and quality education from the British, yet they have remained adamant that today’s generations will not have the same benefit and so remain mired in ignorance and poverty cycle for generations! How do we explain the stark disparity in the living standards of people in Nigerian slums, especially Lagos and Abuja in the midst of obscene wealth?
Communication Skills
How was Jesus Christ able to convert a bunch of largely illiterate but fanatical men to become willing and ready to lay their lives down for the cause He espoused? Same applies to Prophet Mohammed (SAW). Barack Obama became the 44th US President among other qualities and factors on the basis of his awesome communication skills. Ability to connect with diverse peoples is a powerful skill and the possession or lack of this, in many instances; determine success or failure in one’s life mission. There have been 45 US presidents so far but only George Washington has a day set apart in his honor as holiday (February 21), yet a certain clergyman, and African American, Martin Luther King Jr., has a day (January 15) specifically dedicated to his memory all over the US. And this essentially is due to his powerful oratorical skills.
The reference is not to honesty which is totally different. Integrity means to do what you are designed or engaged to do. A car that can’t move has failed the integrity test. An aircraft that can’t fly has failed the integrity test. A building that collapses failed the integrity test. An elected leader who fails on his promise(s) has no integrity. A leader does what he/she says they will do, come rain or high water. Making puerile and lame excuses is useless. Doing everything to undermine the credibility of the electoral process after having promised to do otherwise is glaring evidence of a lack of integrity.
Master of Compromise
Great leaders are masters of the art of compromise, not on their objectives or goals but on the strategies or methods of achieving same. They are always willing to listen, learn, probing and inquiring as to new ways of reaching the stated goals. They are relentless and persistent against opposition or resistance to their strategies or methods. Nelson Mandela readily comes to mind. The total, complete and unconditional abrogation of Apartheid was his and the ANC’s ultimate objective but the Afrikaner minority ruling government wanted certain constitutional guarantees and assurances in a post-apartheid world. The negotiations were tough, painstaking and grueling, but at the end, a compromise was struck that satisfied all parties. Mandela has since departed, but his creation, a liberated South Africa, is a tourist destination and waxing stronger.
As we inch towards the 2019 general elections, Nigerians must be circumspect who they give their votes .
This writer can be reached at @WaleOluwade