Tuesday, 26 November 2013

(81): "Seven lessons of leadership": An Overview (III)

A key lesson every leader should learn from is the fifth quality suggested by Professor David Gergen, what he calls “a sure, quick start”. Leaders tend to acquire a political capital which they need to utilize as quickly as possible. Whether the leader comes through the ballot box, or snatches political power like the military often do, people tend to give the new leader the benefit of the doubt; though not every leader will have the luxury to enjoy that. 

If Murtala Muhammad had been slow when he came to power, probably he wouldn’t have a legacy to be remembered for. If Thomas Sankara was so slow at the beginning of his leadership, his name would have been among those leaders whose name may require some “Googling” before understanding who they were. The honey moon period shouldn’t be allowed to evaporate before taking advantage of it.

Leaders tend to have some energy and enthusiasm at the beginning of their tenure. It does not have to be political leadership; it can be the chief executive of an organisation or even a traditional ruler. If the time is wasted engaged in dirty-politicking, then the impatience of followers and public scrutiny could catch up with the leader, and very few do recover from that.

The sixth quality of leadership according to Professor Gergen is “strong, prudent advisers”. This is a key ingredient of successful leadership, but one ignored by many African leaders; advisers tend to be appointed based on political patronage rather than their experience or ability to deliver. In some cases, political thugs are appointed to hold key positions in government. Of course appointing the best advisers may not guarantee success, because the leader must be willing to listen to them, and be ready to accept their criticism where they differ.

A leader should understand his goals, identify the key areas he needs to focus on and ensure that the right people handle those departments. They must have the free hand to exercise their judgement. If you take Nigeria as an example, the caliber of people the leaders of the first republic surrounded themselves with, says a lot about their intentions. If you look at the cabinet of Tafawa Balewa, whatever their shortcomings were, there were several people in the cabinet, both at the federal and regional levels who can competently hold the position of Prime Minister or the Premier of their respective regions. Here we are in today, where people who are not qualified to lead a local government are managing a country in Africa.

It is interesting that with the exception of the likes of Dr Nnamdi Azikwe who has a PhD, the leaders of the first republic were school certificate holders, and at best hold a first degree. Yet their in-depth understanding of leadership, and the knowledge they exhibited could not, and would not be matched by today’s mediocre grand certificate holders.

Finally, the seventh lesson of leadership from the perspective of Professor Gergen, is what he calls “inspiring others to carry on the mission”. Mahathir Muhammad, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkurmah, Mahatma Ghandi, Lee Kuan Yew, Murtala Muhammad, are world leaders whose fellow countrymen always mention with respect and enthusiasm. They have transformed themselves into the founding fathers of their countries, and the countries are still matching on their vision. “The point is that the most effective presidents create a living legacy, inspiring legions of followers to carry on their mission long after they are gone” said David Gergen.

The leaders who understand this articulate a vision that becomes a defining moment in the history of their nations, and even those who disagree with them, ended up trying to be associated with them or try to claim part of their legacy.

As our countries match towards the election of new leaders, public discourse by the media, civil society organisations, and even partisan politicians should focus on leadership by example. Unfortunately, even some of the followers have developed self-defeatist attitude by focusing on who has enough resources to fight for position of power, rather than competence and ability to deliver; and at worst ethnicity and regional sentiments guide our choice of leaders rather than honesty, transparency, fearlessness, vision and a clear sense of direction.

Yet few months after elections, we start crying that things are not going well. The public should understand that one mistake in casting and defending the ballot box, would mean four or more wasted years of inept and worthless leadership.




Monday, 18 November 2013

(80): "Seven lessons of leadership": An overview (II)

The second important lesson of leadership, according to Professor Gergen is what he calls “A Central Compelling Purpose”. According to him, “just as a president has a strong character, he must be of clear purpose. He must tell the country where he is heading so he can rally people behind him”.  If you look at successful leaders around the world, one thing that becomes clear about them is this sense of purpose. They know the direction they are taking their country to. The message will be so clear that even those who disagree with them will have no option but to support their cause.

In contemporary times you will be talking of world leaders like Mahathir Muhammad of Malaysia, who made his vision clear about transforming Malaysia into a developed country and making sure that the ethnic groups in the country; the Malays, the Chinese and Indians agree to share the same country even if they have reservation about the union. The story of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Malaysia’s neighbour is another interesting story of how purposeful leadership can transform a nation. Within 26 years Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore from a struggling third world country into a developed first world economy.

Within Africa, the vision of Murtala Muhammad, despite leading the country for only six months, showcases leadership with a ‘compelling purpose’. He has achieved in those six months what other leaders could not dream of achieving in eight years. It is not for nothing that the likes of Kwame Nkurma, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara or even the likes of Jerry Rawlings are fondly remembered. Whatever their imperfection, they have demonstrated that leadership must be for a reason, and within the brief period they have been in office, they tried to make a difference.

The third lesson according to Professor Gergen is “A capacity to persuade”, the absence of this quality could perhaps explain the failure of leadership in African countries. How many times did our leaders found it imperative to carry the followership along by trying to persuade them to buy into their programme? A key ingredient of the third lesson is the ability of the leader to be a motivational speaker, one who can win the heart of his audiences, and bring them to his fold even if they disagree with him.

It is quite surprising that under civilian administrations, various African governments will rather employ dictatorial approaches than working to convince their citizens to accept their agenda. Not even in political rallies during electioneering campaign would you see the power of persuasion at work in our continent. With television radio, and the internet at our disposal, yet the energy of political office holders will be spent strategizing on how to rig elections, than convince people even in matters that they can easily swing public opinion in their favour.

The fourth lesson of leadership according to Professor Gergen is “an ability to work within the system”. Different countries have different political systems. But whether in democracy or dictatorship, there are certain mechanisms for checks and balances. There is a procedure for doing business. For leadership to be successful, it should respect these procedures, and never attempt to circumvent it. In fact the ability to work within the framework of the existing political system, whether it is through the national assembly, the judiciary, or abiding by civil service procedure, is a sign of leadership that is well meaning, sincere in its intentions, and ready to leave a legacy for the next generation to follow. Desperation from political leadership to bypass the political system and create its own procedures for short time political gain is a sign of weakness, and a leader that is surrounded by selfish and incompetent advisers.

 The leaders that have succeeded in other countries did not descend from Mars; they are human beings, who just like each and every one of us, where born and brought up by fellow human beings. The difference though is that they possess some of the qualities we have mentioned, while others are battling to understand themselves, before they could even understand the people they lead.

To be continued.

(Views expressed in this and other opinion articles are strictly personal)


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

(79): “Seven lessons of leadership”: An overview (I)

Let me start by saying that the title of this contribution is not mine. It is the title of a chapter in the book Eye Witness to Power written by Professor David Gergen. Certainly if you watch CNN and perhaps other American networks, Professor David Gergen may not be new to you. He is one of the leading pundits on American politics. So what is interesting about this gentleman? Well he is basically what in countries like Nigeria would be called AGIP (any government in power), but perhaps David Gergen is not the typical AGIP, as his approach to politics may be different from what we know in other countries.

I came across the book under discussion in 2008 during a conference in Boston organised by the American Political Science Association (APSA). After purchasing the book, I met a former Nigerian minister at the house of a friend, who by coincidence was pursuing a postgraduate degree at Harvard University, and was taught by Professor Gergen. After a brief discussion about the book, while enjoying the hospitality of our host, who provided a superb tuwon shinkafa and miyar taushe (pounded rice and vegetable soup), which even as a Bakano (someone from Kano), I must confess that I enjoyed the delicious food provided by our host from Zaria, whose house has become an assembly point for Nigerians in Boston.

The former minister said Eye Witness to Power is a must read for everyone trying to understand the challenges of leadership. I couldn’t wait longer to finish the book. I do not necessarily agree with everything that Professor Gergen said in the book, especially his comparison of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. But the meat of the book is in the last chapter which is the subject of this article.

David Gergen had the opportunity to serve four American Presidents, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton as an adviser. After retiring from government he took a Professorial Chair at Harvard University’s school of Government. Part of his contribution was to write this book which essentially is a summary of his experience in the White House. The last chapter of the book, “Seven lessons of leadership” is his thesis on the qualities a leader should possess, and the lessons to learn from the hassles of leadership, if the leader is to be successful, based on what he observed from the four leaders he served.

I chose this topic because of the politicking one is seeing in different African countries. Since many, if not most African leaders are products of Western educational system. It is perhaps important to remind them about their role and responsibility using the language they understand and the countries they look up to.

The first leadership lesson of leadership according to Professor Gergen is that “leadership starts from within”. From what Professor Gergen observes, a leader should understand himself first. According to him one thing he observes is that American Presidents are well read, and “politically savy” yet those of them who failed were the architects of their downfall. “The inner soul of a president flows into every aspect of his leadership far more than is generally recognised” said Professor Gergen. “His passions in life usually form the basis for his central mission in office”, he added.

Here it is interesting to note that the personal characteristic of a leader stems from his character, upbringing and interest. One question I would like to ask is whether political parties, and other stakeholders consider the passion of a politician before giving him the chance to lead people? Of course I can be academic here looking at the reality in African nations, but that does not take away the relevance of the question, because inadvertently, the interest of the leader and his passion in life would have bearing consequences in the way he leads.

I found one example cited by Gergen about Bill Clinton, he stated that despite what Gergen described as “the flows in his character”, Bill Clinton is well read, and during meetings, he normally makes reference to issues he reads about countries, his travels and the rest, which sometimes can checkmate advisers who would like to mislead the leader. So use your judgement to weigh the consequences of having a leader who is not well read, and does not understand the world we live in. The example of Bill Clinton’s successor is still fresh in the memory of the world. One interesting issue mentioned by Gergen at the end of the first quality of leadership is that “No one can succeed in today’s politics unless he or she is prepared to fall on a sword in a good cause”.

To be continued

(Views expressed in this and other opinion articles are strictly personal)

7th Muharram 1435
11the November 2013

Monday, 4 November 2013

(78): Where are the Muslim Scientists?

Last week at the World Islamic Economic Forum in London, the first time such Forum took place outside the Muslim World, showcases how Islamic financing is growing around the world. According to the British Prime Minister David Cameron, Islamic finance is growing fifty percent faster than conventional financing. Of course more needs to be done to strengthening what is gradually appearing to be an alternative to the conventional model.

But my take while listening to the speeches of different world leaders was a statement from the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Nawaz Sheriff. Mr Sheriff briefly lamented on the state of the Muslim world, and how far the Muslim world is left behind, and what needs to be done to revive its hitherto compelling spirit, which greatly contributed in scientific and technological advancement of the world. According to the speech by Mr Sheriff, in the middle ages Muslim scientists produced ninety percent of the literature the world over, yet at the moment, Muslim scientists produced just one percent.

The message of Mr Sheriff was clear, for the Muslim world to regain its position globally; it has to revert to what made it ahead of its contemporaries in the past. Just have a quick look at the list of Muslim scientists and their inventions as listed by the website www.famousscientists.org, you are talking about the likes of Abu Nasr Al-Farabi, known as  Alpharabius, Albattani known as Albatenius, a famous mathematician and astronomer, Ibn Sina or Avesina famous for his contribution to medicine and philiosphy, Ibn Battuta, Ibn Rushd also called Averroes, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khawarazimi, famous for the invention of Arabic numerals and Algebra, Omar Alkhayyam, Abubakar Alrazi “considered one of the greatest physicians in history” according to the famous scientists website; Jabir ibn Alhayyan “the father of Arab chemistry known for his highly influential works on alchemy and metallurgy”, Ibn Ishaq Alkindi, also called Alkindus “who is known as the first of the Muslim peripatetic philosophers.”, Ibn Alhaytham (Alhazen), “Arab astronomer and mathematician known for his important contributions to the principles of optics and the use of scientific experiments.”

The remaining scientists include Ibn Zhur (Avezoar) “Arab physician and surgeon, known for his influential book Al-Taisir Fil-Mudawat Wal-Tadbeer (Book of Simplification Concerning Therapeutics and Diet)”, Ibn Khaldun, a historian, sociologist and economist and the author of Muqaddima, an important work thought to have influenced the work of later Western philosophers like Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and Herbert Spencer,  and Ibn Albaitar “botanist and physician who systematically recorded the discoveries made by Islamic physicians in the Middle Ages”.

These are just a selection of the famous Muslim scientists who contributed to the development of science and technology that is sometimes ignored or even assumed such contribution never existed. It does not even included such giants like Imam Attabari, who is both a scholar of Tafseer (Quranic exegesis) and a medical doctor, or the likes of Imam Al-Ghazali whose contribution would make you hide your face in shame when you see what some of our universities are producing as professors.

But this is the past; we have to think about the present. The Muslim world does not lack the people who will conduct research and regain the glory of the civilization that was once the leading light of the world. What the Muslim world lacks are the institutions that support the development of these scientists to produce the knowledge that our world will continue to desire. The Muslim scientists of the past were successful because of the support they receive from the State and through philanthropists who understand that for a civilization to stand on its feet, it has to be mounted on the pedestal of knowledge.

Research has shown that the Muslim world led the way in the past, because of how endowment funds (Awqaaf) and other philanthropic activities support people to study and produce the best literature without worrying about the hassles of life, which may take away their attention. In fact other civilizations learned about the institution of Waqf from the Muslim world, a point that was made clearly by Tim Wallace-Murphy in his book “What Islam Did for Us: Understanding Islam's Contribution to Western Civilization”. Wallace-Murphy explained how the West learned from the Muslim world how to establish these endowment funds, a factor that critically contributed in the development of institutions like Oxford and Cambridge. 

Unfortunately, the institution of Waqf has been neglected or at best left to the background in the Muslim world, and reviving it, and making it to function in line with current challenges will contribute greatly in producing the Muslim scientists that can bring back the lost glory of the Muslim world.

(Views expressed in this and other opinion articles are strictly personal)


1st Muharram,1435
4th November, 2013