Just before the beginning of the 21st century, an analysis of the state of the world was done. One of the analyses I listened to was made on CNN. They were basically talking about development gaps between nations. 

They used the USA as the pinnacle and how long it will take other nations to catch up with them. What I was interested in was the gap between the USA and Africa. They said it would take Africa 250 years to catch up with the USA. This was in the year 2000. What this simply meant was that though the world was in the year 2000, Africa was in the year 1750. Chronologically we were on the same level with them; developmentally we were in the year 1750. The sad part of the commentary was that the development gap was widening and it keeps widening. About 100 years ago, Africa and the rest of the world had almost the same level of development. It means that while the rest of the world seems to be making progress; we seem to be actually retrogressing in terms of the qualities of life. Most of us belong to countries that got their independence around the 1960s with great hope. That hope seems to be turning to cynicism and that accounts for the mass brain drain that we are experiencing in our continent. There is a huge brain drain which simply tells you that people have lost faith. If Britain were to start giving free visas at the airport; everybody will line up because everyone wants to leave.

The reason is because our people do not see a leadership that inspires hope. They do not see a leadership that tells them that things will get better. When I was growing up, what I thought was that politicians and government people were intelligent people who knew the answers to all our problems. I have had the privilege of sitting in the company of such people and I have come away with a feeling that if these are the people we are trusting to lead us; then the people need to pray very hard. The people we think should solve our problems don’t understand what our problems are. If you don’t understand the problem then you cannot know the solution. The fact that you can observe and describe a problem does not mean you understand the problem. Most Africans have a good observation of what the problems of our nations are, we can describe the problems but we do not understand what the problems are. That is why we cannot fashion out intelligent responses because we don’t fully understand the problems.

The African problem is a complex one because it is made up of several layers of problems. There is the pre-colonial layer of problem caused by our old traditional systems, our value systems and the structure of the African society. Before the white man came we were poor. We did not need them to make us poor. We did not need the IMF to make us poor and we were good at being poor. Before the white man came we were fighting ourselves and having intertribal wars and we did not need help at fighting these wars. Those problems were products of the social system we had developed. Then we had the colonial layer when the white man came in and they added a new dimension to the issue; that of dependency. They set up a system that made us depend on them and to make us feel we are inferior and they are better than us. Then we got independent and we had our own people rule us. That is the post colonial layer. Our post independence leaders who are our own people brutalised us and so created a feeling of hopelessness. Under colonial rule, we had hoped that things will get better but now hope is gone. That is one of the reasons why we have this mass brain drain occurring in Africa. Most of the prescriptions for Africa’s problems deal with the issues that the white man introduced but most of the time we are unable to deal with the fundamental problems we had during the pre-colonial era. If we are not able to deal with the problems that we had before the white man came, our whole structure of leadership is based on a fundamental African assumption of leadership and that is why there is this whole problem in Nigeria about whether there should be a third term or not. And be assured that if there is a third term there will be a fourth term and a fifth term and so on because it is symptomatic of an African problem that has not been changed at the root of the African psyche.
The Challenges of Leadership in Today’s World by Mensah Otabil!
To really solve our problems in Africa goes beyond just going to school. I have seen some people who are well educated with strings of degrees and have several alphabets after their names behave in the most primitive manner. This is because they learnt new knowledge on top of old assumptions such that their assumptions never change. And that is the most dangerous person because he has an intellectual defence for the indefensible. He tries to use his mind and makes his old assumptions very intellectual. That level of intellectualism which we find a lot in our continent is extremely harmful to our development. We have not been able to change and challenge our assumptions. Europe was able to move forward because they were able to challenge their old assumptions through the renaissance and reformation. These challenges replaced old way of thinking with new ones most of which were influenced by Christian belief by the way. Although they used to cut heads in the U.K now they don’t cut heads anymore. So how come that those in Europe who used to do some barbaric things don’t do so anymore? Is it because their genetics have changed? No. It is because they used their knowledge to change the old foundations of their society. Until we are able to do that as Africans, we will never be able to progress. We use our intellectual abilities to defend the old Africa and until we are able to change the assumptions of the old Africa, we cannot have a new Africa. This is a challenge for those of us in leadership.

The Leadership Growth Path

There is a path of growth in leadership which I call the leadership growth path. When people don’t follow a leadership growth path, they wreck havoc on the society. By the time someone is elevated to a leadership position, he is expected to have outgrown childhoodness. But as we know in Africa, we have had ‘children’ becoming leaders either through the barrel of a gun, through patronage or through sheer brute force. And so if we don’t have a leadership growth path we are going to end up with wrong people assuming powerful leadership positions.

What is Leadership?

So many people have wise sayings and anecdotes as to what leadership is all about. I have a good friend called Myles Munroe from Nassau in the Bahamas and I like his definition of leadership. This is what Myles Munroe said, “Leadership is the capacity to influence others through inspiration generated by a passion, motivated by vision, birthed by a conviction, produced by a purpose.” So in terms of this process of leadership, we start with purpose; purpose produces conviction; conviction produces vision; vision gives you passion; passion makes you an inspirer; your inspiration influences people and when you are able to do that you become a leader. You cannot be a leader when you don’t have a reason, a purpose, and a cause. To understand what your life is all about and what you want to accomplish is your sense of purpose. Leadership is not just about influence. You cannot influence people if you cannot inspire them. Most leadership is not cohesive meaning that you cannot force people to do things. People do things because they are inspired to do so. You are able to inspire people because you are passionate about something. That passion comes from a conviction, the way you sees things and which you are not going to change for any reason. That conviction comes from a purpose.

One of the best places to learn leadership is in the Church. Pastors are able to get people to do things which they will ordinarily not do and which they will not even get paid for. Pastors get people to pray, they get people to usher, they get people to counsel other people, and they get people to win souls and all without any monetary reward. The degree of leadership of a pastor will reflect in the degree of people committed to his cause. If a pastor is a good pastor more people will be committed to his cause but if he is a bad pastor then nobody goes out for evangelism, nobody goes out to counsel and people generally don’t want to do anything. Pastors are able to inspire a voluntary workforce to do a lot of things. In the corporate world, you don’t need to inspire people to do anything; the pay packet is enough inspiration. You can dangle the carrot and the whip at the same time. People will work so hard and forget about their families because you have promised them that if they can do such and such a thing and achieve a particular target, they will get this and that. In the church, pastors don’t offer such monetary incentives. Pastors can’t even tell their congregation that if they win souls they will go to heaven because a Christian knows that he will go to heaven anyway. So why do people do so much for churches? It is because of the inspirational leadership of pastors. I tell corporate leaders that if you want to study leadership, go to the churches where pastors are getting people to pay their tithes and give so much money to different causes. The government can’t even get people to pay their taxes even with threats of punishment. Meanwhile pastors get people to commit so much money to building churches. That is leadership. That is inspiration. The church is the cradle of leadership. So if we want to study leadership, we have to go to the founder of the Church – Jesus Christ. Jesus exemplifies the great leader.

If you look at Jesus in a secular way, his influence is very profound. He did not use armed conflicts. He did not use political power. He just assembled a band of twelve people, lived with them for three years, died; left them and those people changed the world. So what did He do in three years to people who were not in the leadership circle of their society? Remember that the disciples were not in the top echelons of the Jewish society. So what did this carpenter from Judea do to these ordinary people that they did not abandon his cause even after his death and went out to change the world? It was said of them in the Acts of the Apostles that “the people who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” The whole world was threatened by this band of Jewish disciples of a dead man whom they claimed had resurrected. Jesus is the ultimate leader.

Leadership Imperatives

So let’s take a look at Jesus’ call to leadership. How did Jesus recruit people to leadership? In Matthew 4: 19-20 we can find Jesus’ call to leadership. “Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed him.” In these few words you find the call to leadership and the process to leadership development. There are three leadership imperatives that are found in that statement. The first one is the imperative, ‘To Follow’. Follow me is a call to training. People have leadership potentials but they don’t become leaders by themselves. They need training. Training has three components: (1) Observation, to be able to observe, (2) Understanding, to be able to understand and (3) Imitation, to be able to imitate. If you are going to be trained by a leader, you have to understand that leader; you have to be able to imitate that leader. Every potential leader must be a keen observer. Your eyes must be wide open. When you see things, you must have more than a cursory view of them. When you read you must be able to observe beyond the print. You have to be able to think a little deeper than everybody else is doing. There are things that are common to everybody but there are things that are unique to some people. You should be able to see and notice the slight differences in people and situations. The ability to see the subtleties of life is crucial to leadership development.

You also have to understand the anomaly, the reason behind the difference. That is why the disciples of Jesus always went to him to ask him, ‘Why did you do that? Why didn’t you do that? The reason behind the anomaly may make sense and it may not make sense. There is the story of a man who had a strong prayer life and he had a cat that was a bother to him. Anytime he wanted to go and pray in the attic, the cat would follow him and if you know cats very well, they like nuzzling around people. So the cat disturbed him and didn’t allow him to pray. So in order to be able to concentrate, he would tie the cat up to the bed post and go to pray. His children observed him do that but they didn’t ask why. So the children grew up and got married and started a prayer habit for their home. They all bought cats and anytime they want to pray, they will tie up their cats to the bed post. Their children asked them, ‘Why do you always tie the cats up when you want to pray?’, and they answered, ‘that is how our father used to tie his cat up when he wants to pray and God answered his prayers.’ So their children grew up and said ‘in our family it is our tradition to tie the cat up when we want to pray’. But they didn’t really like cats so they bought large pictures of cats and put them up in their prayer rooms so that anytime they pray they will still see pictures of cats. They observed but they did not understand. If you don’t understand why something is being done in a particular way the next step will be disastrous for you. One of the tragedies of the African society is we are imitating without understanding. What our fathers left us, what they taught us, what we call the African culture we have to understand such things. We just don’t do things without understanding the reasons behind such things.

The second imperative to leadership is a call to transformation. You don’t just get trained, you get transformed. If we are going to grow into leadership, we go through training but it is a training that transforms. Most of the people in leadership in our continent went through training with people from other continents in Europe and the United States. Some even worked in such environments. But when you bring for example a man who studied construction in Europe and who built good roads in Europe to Africa, he builds roads and there are potholes in a month. The reason is that such a man got training but didn’t get transformation. Transformation will overhaul your value system. Training is not just about knowledge impartation but it is about personal and professional growth. The form of the person undergoing the training must be changed.

The third imperative to leadership is a call to transposition. Transposition means a redefinition of your skills and position. Prior to when Jesus called his disciples, they were ‘fishermen’ but after he called them they became ‘fishers of men’. One phrase is common to both of these terms: fishers but instead of being fishers of fish they were going to be fishers of men. They were still going to be using the same skills but this time there was going to be an added value to their skills. A lot of us must have heard of a man called Bill Cosby. He is a comedian in the United States. In Africa we call such a man a joker. But he is a joker who is richer than many African countries. The same skills he uses as a joker are what some drunkards use to tell jokes under trees in African villages. They drink, they tell jokes and everybody laughs but they don’t get paid as much as Cosby because Cosby is a fisher of men and they are fishers of fish. They have skills but their skills are employed at a very low level of effectiveness. Cosby has skills but it is being employed at a very high level. What Jesus was saying was that he was going to take the skills that the disciples had and add additional value to such skills. That is transposition. Your skills don’t change but it is sharper, it is redefined and it is repositioned. When you look at African football players in their different national teams, most of them play in the European leagues. Micheal Essien, one of Ghana’s key players was bought by Chelsea for 25 million pounds. In Ghana, Micheal Essien was a hungry kicker of ball. But at Chelsea, he is a rich kicker of ball. Jesus gave his disciples a new focus for their skills. He empowered them to do some powerful things with their skills. Leadership is not about changing people to become different people but taking the same people and lifting them up to a new level. Leadership takes people’s gifts and gives them new applications. That is why Jesus will take a person like Matthew whom everyone knew was a thief and make him a changed man. He took Paul, a zealot and persecutor of Christians and made him an apostle. The same skills that Paul used in persecuting Christians were what he used to preach the gospel. A lazy man is a lazy man whether under the mango tree or in the governor’s mansion. A non-performer will always be a non-performer. But a performer even within a small sphere can be made to become a performer within a larger sphere. Everyone that Jesus took was a performer and a doer.

Are Leaders Born or Made

There is this old argument about whether leaders are born or are made. I would say both. I have never seen a leader who was not born. You can be born into leadership positions but you have to be made a leader. As Shakespeare said, ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.’ It is the same thing with leadership. If you are the child of a queen, you are automatically a prince even if you don’t have princely behaviours. You don’t need to work hard to be a prince. But after you are born into that office, people will expect and demand from you the attributes of a prince and princely behaviour. If you don’t have the discipline to develop the needed attributes then people will reject you. So you can be born into a position but you have to be made. So being made into a leader requires training, transformation and transposition. Training can be academic or apprenticeship. But the best form of training is mentoring. Leadership is more an art than a science. You can learn all there is to learn about leadership but it is the practice that matters. You need to learn from a practitioner.

Everyone aspiring to leadership must have someone who takes an interest in their affairs, guiding them and teaching them and transforming them from fishers of fish to fishers of men. We can do it all by ourselves but if we have someone guiding us it makes it easier. Such a person paves the path and makes it simpler. What you may learn in twenty years you can learn probably in three years. One little observation can make all the difference. If you don’t have a mentor you have to get one and mentors are not for sale. You have to fish around and beg around and be like Elisha. Elisha for me is the example of a very focused learner. Elijah did not want to mentor him. Everybody discouraged him but Elisha did not give up. You must have the Elisha tenacity which does not give up. If you want one appointment and if it is going to take you one year to get that appointment, then by all means get it. Five minutes with a mentor can make all the difference. The wisdom he might give you might not be extraordinary; it may just be street wisdom but it will make a lot of difference in the way you function. The wisdom a mentor gives you cannot be obtained in a classroom.

What Impact Do Leaders Have?

In Luke 6:39, Jesus spoke a parable to the people asking, ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? Yes the blind can lead the blind. What would happen? They would fall into the ditch. It is happening all round Africa. The question Jesus asked is talking about vision. Leaders must understand today’s realities and see tomorrow’s opportunities. Everyone who has sight when he is walking must see what is in front of him and what is ahead of him. You must see where you are and where you want to go. Leadership impact is about influence, inspiring others to act. Someone without vision can influence others to go with him and end up in a ditch. That is why leadership is so important. It impacts vision, it creates influences, it determines destiny. If you are an observer of our continent, we are where we are because of our leaders. Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Angola, Sudan, Chad. We are where we are because of those we follow or that which we follow.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu outlines five weaknesses or character flaws that are detrimental to leadership. The Art of War is a great book which every leader must read. Sun Tzu outlines such flaws as follows: (i) Recklessness-if a general is reckless his men will be killed; (ii) Cowardice-if a general is cowardly his men can be captured; (iii) Short-tempered-if a general is short-tempered he will react in anger; (iv) Self-importance- if a general is self-important he can be deceived and (V) Attachment – if a general is attached to his men he will hesitate at a critical moment. All these attitudes or responses must be worked on if they are our natural ways of responding. Recklessness is not the same as boldness. A bold person takes a calculated risk of his action. A reckless person does not think of the consequences of his actions. Leadership is not for cowards. One of the toughest decisions a leader will have to make is letting people go. Some people might have been useful in the past but now have become clogs in the wheels of progress. When you think of some of the past things they have done, you want to move them elsewhere though you know that such people really have to go. In the corporate world they call it firing people but I prefer the term moving people. It requires boldness. Leaders must not be short-tempered. Short-tempered people don’t think through their responses. If you are self-important as most African leaders are, you can be deceived. The people around you will tell you only what you want to hear. Nobody tells you the truth. That is sycophancy. Once you become a leader you have your own praise and worship singers; it comes with the position. You must not become emotionally attached to such people.

What Are The Most Important Practices of a Leader?

1. Leaders are people who model the way. They set the example. If you can’t set the example then you get out of the way. People just don’t follow the example they follow you. You cannot speak against corruption and be corrupt. One of the things that African politicians do is developing policies that are not in line with their value system.

2. Leaders inspire a shared vision. You may have the idea but you should be able to build a consensus and a commitment to your vision. Leaders don’t impose their vision on people; they inspire people to become committed to their vision. You don’t knock people around on the heads and force them to do things.

3. Leaders challenge a process. You can’t bring about change until you challenge the old system. They don’t just accept what is obtainable, they question the process. People don’t like change. They like comfort and sameness. Human beings are creatures of habits. People want you to do the same thing in the same way over and over again. There is a saying that if it is not broke don’t fix it. I say if it is not broken then improve it. Don’t wait for a system to collapse before improving it. Even when a system is performing at peak level improve it. If you are always comfortable with what you have, you can’t grow your system.

4. Leaders enable others to act. You are going to reach a point where your personal competence is no longer relevant. Your personal competence has a limited sphere of operation. At a certain point you have to work through other people. You delegate and supervise.

5. Leaders should be able to encourage the heart. You should be able to make people hopeful. The human spirit when well motivated is able to achieve heights and do things that are considered impossible. Leaders give that extra encouragement that make people perform more than their competence. Every leader should be able to do these five things.

What Are The Different Levels Of Leadership?

Remember that there is a leadership growth process where a leader moves from one level and goes through a process before ascending the next level. The first level of leadership is called the manager of self. If you can’t manage self it is very unlikely if you can manage anything else. The second level is manager of team. Third level is manager of managers. The fourth level is functional manager. Here is someone who is managing something based on a specific competence. Then you have a business manager, we call them general manager. Then you have group manager. Group Manager oversees several general managers under them. Then you have the Enterprise manager. This is the overall head of a huge organisation. He is the chief executive. All organisations have these different levels of leadership though they may not describe them in the same way. Leadership however starts with the manager of self. If a man is at the top of his organisation and did not go through the whole process that is, he did not pass through being a manager of self or a manager of team before becoming a group or enterprise manager then that organisation is in big trouble.

For any organisation that wants to grow leaders, one of the things they really have to look at is recruitment. When you are recruiting people, you recruit people who potentially can do what you want them to do. If you are recruiting someone into an organisation you must recruit people who potentially can become the head of that organisation. Everyone that will be recruited must pass through the leadership growth pattern of the organisation. If you recruit people who can’t go through the growth pattern of the organisation they will stagnate your process. Recruitment is very important. Jesus had millions of people around him from whom he could have picked his disciples. But he was deliberate and intentional in his choice of disciples. He went around from place to place. He was very selective. I believe there was something Jesus was looking for in selecting his disciples. He was looking for men who could replace him. He was looking for people who potentially could become the Enterprise Manager of his ministry. There are organisations which are very successful but who do not have people that can reach the top. Their recruitment process did not factor those coming in. When you study the politics of the United States, you find out that the people who become Presidents are people who have passed through the political system as governors or as elected representatives of the people. By the time President Bush was finishing his first term in office, there were about twenty people who had the possibilities of becoming the next president. This narrows down to about ten people as time goes by with each party having five persons apiece. By the time of the election, you eventually have two people. The process is such that the people aspiring to be presidents are people who have been groomed for such positions and have passed through the process. In the corporate world, when the office of chief executive is going to become vacant; there are three or four people who can step into that position. In a university, when the office of the vice-chancellor is going to become vacant; there are a couple of professors who can fill the vacuum. It is a predictable system. It is not left to chance. So there is a leadership growth passage that all leaders must pass through.

The Challenges of Leadership

There are several challenges of leadership. One is skill requirement. As you move along the leadership growth path, the skill requirement changes. For example in a church, if you have a pastor who prays well, studies well, preaches well and is kind and compassionate; that is a great combination. He would do extremely well. If you take that pastor and move him ahead and make him a pastor who supervises about ten churches; his prayer, his preaching, his visitation skills won’t help him much. At this higher level, he should be able to enforce rules, he should be able to set targets, and he should be able to motivate a team. He should even learn a new way of speaking. As you grow in the leadership pipeline, your skill set must change. What is required of me to be a good pastor is different from what is required of me to be the head of a university. The tragedy is that people have skills but when they go higher up, they don’t change their skill set or add new skills. Some people may be very great at a certain level but they become a disaster when they go up to a higher level. Another leadership challenge is time application. Every leadership level has new time applications. Your time application has to do with the kind of job you are doing and the important tasks you have to perform. Using the same example above, your time application as a pastor includes sitting with your church members during visitation and asking about their welfare. As a supervisor of other pastors you have to prioritise. You give people who are coming to see you specific time to do so. You must prioritise your time for every new level that you get to. Your time requirement and your time application changes.

Another challenge of leadership is work values. What you believe is important becomes the focus of your efforts. Everybody needs to have a work value. At every level you must know what is important and what your focus is. Some years ago my focus as a pastor was meeting with people and encouraging them. Now my focus is strategic planning. I have to sit and think through where my organisation is and where I want it to go. At the top strategic level, time is of the essence. You have to be able to think things through at this level. If you are the kind of person who has to talk everything through then you can’t function at the strategic level. If a person is a good individual contributor, then he is a self managed person. At the individual contributor level, he needs to have professional competencies and technical skills. He needs to be able to work in a team. He needs relationship skills. If the person is moved up to manager of team, he has to learn how to plan for a project. He has to know how to make a budget so as to be able to make a requisition for his team. He should be able to recruit, to delegate, to monitor performance and to design jobs. He will need to be able to build relationships with both people at the top and the people under him. The skills keep changing until you get to the top level. A lot of people are just happy doing what is easy and therefore they don’t move along the leadership growth ladder.

Each person must be able to develop a five year leadership growth plan. Where do you want to be in 2011? When it comes to leadership, you must have appetite. Some people call it ambition. If no pastor in my church wants to aspire to the position where I am then that means there is no future for the church. Every pastor in my church must aspire to the position of the General Overseer. That means each pastor must acquire the skills set necessary for the position of the General Overseer. The top person must have wide angle vision. When you are in leadership, you lose contact with the bottom. You need people who will help you keep in touch with the bottom. If you can’t keep in touch with those at the bottom, they may undermine you. So wherever you are take the time to develop your own leadership growth path and work towards it.

Dr. Mensah Otabil delivered this lecture during a leadership seminar organised by the Trinity Leadership School; the leadership training and business development school of the Christ Church Parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God located in Gbagada, Lagos. Dr. Mensah Otabil is the founder and General Overseer of the International Central Gospel Church in Ghana and Chancellor of the Central University College; Ghana’s premier private university. Dr. Otabil is also the Chairman of the Court of Governors of the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT. He is a widely acclaimed conference speaker at business seminars and an adviser to several top companies in Africa and around the world.