Rethinking Leadership: Vision And Capacity of A Transformer

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Leaders who have led successful transformation of their societies have been men of exceptional intelligence, knowledge and wisdom anchored on integrity, writes Anya O. Anya

When we think of leadership in Nigeria as indeed in the rest of Africa we often ignore the historical burdens that predispose leadership to failure. We often forget the burden imposed by our past by slave trade, the colonial experience and the baggage of past failures in leadership. These historical burdens impose on the present leadership the obligation to rethink the future for a new vision that will mitigate the constraints imposed by the past.

Unfortunately, the leadership that succeeded the colonial administration inherited the structures of governance, hook, line and sinker without examining the features of their new inheritance as to relevance, suitability or applicability in the environment of a truly independent nation. Both Nnamdi Azikiwe and Tafawa Balewa in separate speeches pointed out the existence of this hiatus.

Furthermore in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society the leaders did not have the luxury of close interaction with each other. Hence they could not develop a common vision of the future for their new nation nor could they share a common code of values. Such interaction could have underlined to them the necessity of their mutual interdependence.

Such interdependence would have facilitated the emergence of a leadership cadre sharing a common vision of the future with a code of values or ethos that would enhance collaboration, cooperation and the convergence of interests developed in an environment that engenders simultaneously a sense of autonomy and self-determination in the constituent sub-national polities. The desirability of a federal state would have been under the circumstances self-evident.

The flipside to this anomalous situation is the centrifugal tension that has haunted the new nation from its earliest days. As Karl Maier an American journalist had cause to observe “…the long term solution in Nigeria to the crisis that arise in a multi-ethnic state is for the various parties, however many they may be to sit down and negotiate how they want to govern themselves and how they ultimately want to share resources and to decide whether they ultimately want to live together…until they begin that process of internal reconciliation at best Nigeria (will) lurch from crises to crises….”

As daunting as the challenge of leadership may appear, history teaches that such leaders have emerged at critical points in their nation’s history. Otto van Bismark did it for Germany, Ataturk for Turkey and in more recent times, Deng Xiaping for China, Lee Kwuan Yew for Singapore, Mohamed Mahathir for Malaysia and Mandela for South Africa. Leaders who have led successful transformation of their societies have been men of exceptional intelligence, knowledge and wisdom anchored on integrity, sensitivity and tenacity of purpose. They are people who have a clear sense of purpose with the uncanny ability to handle the organizational politics of their environment while managing processes to facilitate the desired outcome. As managers of processes they have enhanced capacity to resolve dilemmas, ethical issues and conflicts as well as to shift paradigms through creative thinking and applicable techniques of persuasion. They are masters in the management of creative tension.

In a plural society such as Nigeria each individual carries multiple identities which stir the deeper sensibilities and dynamics that shape human relationships: the boundaries that challenge leadership today are more psychological than structural or organizational. They involve the whole gamut of human relationships often associated with strong emotions: the presence or lack of trust, loyalty, respect, pride, common purpose, safety, security, threats and the small matter of ownership.

The fundamental challenge of leadership then is to understand how identities are formed out of the interplay of two fundamental but opposing forces – the need for differentiation, divergence, and uniqueness in contradistinction to the need for integration, convergence and belongingness. The ultimate challenge for leadership is how to bridge or span these multiple identities by reaching out across the complex boundaries in human relationships. Consequently leadership must have the capacity to manage boundaries, forge common ground and purpose even as they discover new frontiers to conquer.

Modern research in management science has identified six practices which facilitate the emergence of the capacity for “boundaries-spanning” leadership. Such research has shown that when the multiplicity and complexity of forces are brought to bear in alignment and synergy they produce what has been called a nexus effect – the emergence of new and unexpected realities that bring with them new possibilities that inspire groups to recognize that they can achieve together above and beyond what they can realise on their own. That is indeed, the inherent strength in diversity: the whole taken together in this new environment of cooperation and collaboration, (a new creative diversity) becomes bigger than the sum of its multitude of separate parts. Since the leader is the driver of the new situation he exudes the zeal to excel, determination to innovate and commitment to sacrifice to the common good.

Boundary-spanning leadership then is the ability to create direction, alignment and commitment across boundaries in the service of a higher vision and goal. The higher desirable goal in our present circumstances being to build a new Nigeria where equity, justice and prosperity is available and accessible to all individuals, all regions and all constituencies. Leaders must therefore lead across groups, and diversities at the historical juncture where experience, expertise and varied identities intersect, even as two powerful human forces – differentiation and integration collide to catalyze a new reality driven by collaboration, innovation, and transformation engineered by a new mindset and new mental models. As the late Albert Einstein observed “problems cannot be solved at the current level of consciousness that created them”. Hence the inevitability of change. So where do we go from here?

It is pertinent to remind us at this stage that the three outstanding problems facing Nigeria are presently
• The challenge of national Integration;
• The challenge of national development; and
• The challenge of building a Pan-Nigerian leadership cadre

It was our late compatriot Chinua Achebe who had observed: “The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership. Nigeria can change if she discovers leaders who have the will, the ability and the vision…”
This is the crux of the matter – the selection process for leadership is anchored not on the discovery of new talents and grooming them for service according to the national vision and the national code of values. The preponderance of what passes for leadership in Nigeria today is provided by the political class: self-selected and self-perpetuating through an amoral and value depreciating network of god-fathers who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. So we need a wholesale change in the rulership class.

Fortunately we have in the Report of the 2014 National Conference a report that can serve as a new grundnorm, for embedded in that document is the framework of a new constitution: the result of an unprecedented national consensus which can be validated by the Nigerian peoples in a referendum. In the meantime we can make the chapter 2 of our present constitution justiciable and mandatory on all governments at all levels. Maybe that such an initiative should serve to return the government to the people since all the issues that should concern the citizen is fully aggregated in that chapter II of the present constitution.
In summary, the greatest need of Nigeria at this period of convulsive changes in the global environment is a leadership that has the consuming passion and compassion to build bridges across the peoples of Nigeria beyond ethnicities, cultures and religions. It is not rocket science.

Professor Anya, FAS, recent remarks at the National dialogue of the Nigerian Prize for leadership