Leadership: the challenge to be something more than average.
By Jeanne Ongiyo
Patient, trustworthy, team-player…These are just a few attributes from the long list of qualities that a leader should ideally posses. Leadership comes in a variety of forms; from being the head of a family to being the overall leader in-charge of a state. All these different types of opportunities require a certain degree of virtues that one needs to exercise in order to achieve the underlying purpose delegated by the duty at hand. Over time, a trend has emerged where celebrated leaders are drawn from the yester years of struggle, when people were trying to find their identity as is the case with independence and revolution. We trust these men and women because more often than not they have shown they are willing to put country before individual wants and needs. They lose all markers of distinction and become everybody’s leader. Nelson Mandela was not a black president but the father of a nation, Mahatma Gandhi was not an Indian man but a champion for universal peace, Martin Luther King Junior stopped being an African-American activist because he became the beacon for human rights across the globe. These and many besides, were true leaders.
These leaders were more of a unifying factor whose actions were intended to strike a common ground among all their faithful followers. However, such leadership has faded from existence. Does this mean that we have no leaders to emulate in the present time or is it simply a situation of looking for the right qualities from the wrong individuals?
Today, leadership seems to have taken a turn for the worst. Gone are the days when true leaders were the role models of the society who set the bar high in terms of the interactions we have amongst ourselves. Prestige, wealth and popularity seem to be the new criteria that one has to meet before he or she is entrusted with a leadership position. Of course, just like the five fingers in a normal human being’s hand, we are not all equal hence some aspiring leaders resort to unscrupulous means to ‘match’ this ascribed criterion. The ‘grooming’ process however seems to cause more harm than good as lives are lost and reputations permanently tainted; quite the opposite of the expectations. Take the example of a University Presidential Campaign. A classic case that has been time and again brought to our attention is the heated University of Nairobi election process and campaigns.
The struggle to get nominated is more treacherous in comparison to the actual National general election process. Leadership especially in politics has been transformed into a playground of the ‘who knows who’. Formation of alliances rather than presentation of manifestos has been the norm when vying for leadership positions. As is the situation now in the University of Nairobi, allegiance to the current Student President, Paul Ongili Owino alias Babu Owino is likely to guarantee you a position in the prestigious office you have been eyeing for some time. All this seems so rosy and easy but wait…there is a catch. Before you run off raising your hopes higher than the Empire State building, you need to know the consequences that come with seeking this leadership position.
If you need concrete and hard-hitting news, trust the media to do an exemplary job! The media has most recently brought to light how to stare death in the eye by simply seeking a leadership position in one of the most prestigious learning institutions in Kenya today. One Mr. Dennis Njeru recently decided to have a go at the top seat that Babu seems to have clung to from 2011. Images of him being stripped naked in the streets of Nairobi doing rounds on social media and death threats are some of the unfortunate incidences he has to deal with following his quest for leadership. This might come as a shock because it is reported from a university set up whereas in the normal game of politics, it is considered mastery of ropes. This begs the question…why lose your head over a mere position? Why go to such lengths to be something more than average? Is it worth it?
A true leader is one who is humble enough to admit their mistakes. With all the pride that has engulfed Kenyan politicians which ‘leader’ will be cowardly enough to apologize for mistakes done? In my opinion, the controversial Charles Keter Saga at the Gilgil weight bridge was a clear indication of abuse of power. Like minded Kenyans are still waiting for an apology from the ‘Mheshimiwa’ as much as believers hope for the coming of the promised Messiah. Why is this not the case in Kenya today? Why do we have to bribe our way into power? Sure the Kenyan politicians have done a superb job in terms of influencing future leaders in all the wrong ways but isn’t it high time we put our best foot forward and decide that enough is enough?
Jack Welch stated that before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself, when you become a leader success is about growing others. Future leaders should not seek riches from leadership neither should they want to lead for the sake of influence. True leaders should strive to make a change and not follow the otherwise dim example that has been set by their predecessors. When choosing leaders in whatever domain, we should call to mind the fact that attitude reflects leadership therefore if you participate in choosing a leader with seemingly awkward character you are indeed scheduled for an awkward experience when the candidate is in office.
In conclusion, this a special request to all prospective leaders. Not everyone can be a leader so when entrusted with this great task ensure that you take responsibility for your actions and not make excuses. Leadership can not be given, it is earned…Leadership can not be taken away…you lose it by lack of performance.