Operational Leadership: Still Forward with Africa

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Recently, we discussed the imperative of thought leadership for Africa’s development; the need for a drastic change in mindsets; and the assumption of virtue at the individual, domestic and continental levels.

A powerful African adage comes to mind in relation to this subject: “the fish gets rotten from the head.”

Truth be told, if Liberia were a fish, the decay would have reached the tail by now – what with nearly two centuries of deceit, corruption and division. But, by the grace of God, we are still here – a salvageable mess. The question now is “what must be done?” After all, thought is meaningless if not followed up with action.

The answer: we as individuals and as a people, must follow Hamlet’s advice to his mother; “Assume a virtue, if you have not one.” That’s right. We must fake it ‘til we make it.

“‘We’” you ask? “The problem is the Government, not the people! ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God!’”

For those subscribing to that notion, we refer you to the Books of Samuel, which recount the Israelites’ rejection of theocracy in favor of a monarchy. They wanted to be like other nations, serving a king instead of the God who had set them free. God did not approve of the people’s will, but he granted it; and they lived to regret it. Deeply.

The story sounds familiar. We no longer wanted a ‘Congor’ leader, so we shouted “Country woman born soldier!” and ushered in Samuel K. Doe as president. When we were fed up with his tyranny, we told Charles Taylor he could “kill our ma and kill our pa”, but we would vote for him. In both cases, we got exactly what we asked for, and lived to regret it. Deeply.

Yes, “We the People” are just as rotten as our leaders. Not only are we unable to spot a good leader if one were staring right at us, but we have serious vices of our own. We use sex, flattery, bribery, manipulation and blackmail to gain favors; we relish marital infidelity; we refuse to work, but depend heavily on our employed connections to support us; when employed, we consider ourselves to be on a perpetual paid vacation…on an on.

We are, as a people, indisposed to personal responsibility and unaware that leadership belongs to us all. Not just Ma Ellen or Pa Joe. When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them ‘dominion’. That’s an inescapable leadership mandate resting equally on both their shoulders. But, in Liberia, we shy away from leadership, and instead make excuses: lack of funding, poor capacity, the rain, and (our favorite) “no money wa in my foon.”

We also live in fear of retribution. How many public and private sector employers make excuses for poor institutional performance, just to avoid getting ‘big foot’? How many are afraid to legally and reasonably fire staff because of political backlash? How many feel sorry for underachievers and keep them on board, not wanting to “take food from someone’s mouth”?

We Liberians (we Africans) are hell bent on national, institutional and personal sabotage, because we refuse to be held accountable, and are afraid to hold others to account. The tales are endless that depict this vicious cycle. Wherever those scenarios exist, no one has the right to complain about challenges, because we create and sustain them. After all, even the most competent and hardworking team cannot function optimally under the leadership of a coward who does not set standards, follow and enforce them. Managers cannot lead well if their superiors undermine reform efforts just to avoid political risks.

Breaking the cycle starts with courage. Is your superior, subordinate or peer underperforming or playing foul? Peacefully confront them today and offer to support them in correcting the issue. If they don’t, report it or begin the severance process (if authorized). Then run to your religious leader for prayer.

Breaking the cycle of poor leadership also starts with pretense – assuming a virtue. If your fingers are itching to steal, pretend for a day to be honest, and act it out. Pretend you have a spotless character and act it out. Your new found integrity will serve as grounds to hold someone else accountable – with humility and courage – knowing that you are changing the world.

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