Two weeks ago I did a Facebook Live post where I talked about leadership. I made reference to the tendency of certain kinds of leaders to try to control their followers by exerting unnecessary force, threatening them or being verbally abusive or intimidating. My position was that a leader need not try to prove that he is a leader for his “followers” to respect him. He needs not prove that he is superior to his follower if he really is. And in my opinion a leader is not necessarily chosen because he is better than all his followers in all aspects of life. A leader needs to know that and take advantage of the reasources he has within his team to make the betst of his organization. He must be humble enought to enquire (sounds like Edgar Schein’s book).
After I shared this video on my Facebook page, my boss drew my attention to another video where Malcom Gladwell, the writer of the book, Outliers gave a talk in a church about Power Distance. It was an intriguing discussion because he started the discussion with a particular plane crash and went step by step through a series of events that led up to the plan crash. He then settled on the conversation that ensued during the last moments of the plane being airborne as was captured by the black box. That conversation revealed the real reason the simple problems could not be solved quickly enough: communication.
The Asst. Pilot was not communicating clearly that there was an emergency and that lives were at stake. In talking to the control tower, he was using mitigation in his speech and the control tower perceived it as if he was saying things were fine. He didn’t want to sound demanding or commanding and this ended up ending people’s lives. Gladwell alluded to the fact that this Power Distance problem also showed up as an issue of culture. In some cultures, people are more likely to defer to authority than in others. What struck me really was the dire consequences of something so trivial.
I think any leader who wants to hear the truth from his “followers”, really inspire people and be remembered not regretted needs to reduce that so called Power Distance between himself and the people. I believe the onus lies largely on the leader to change the culture and create the enabling environment for authentic followership. As we have seen, the effects are significant. What do you think?
I recently listened in passing to a commentary about leadership that struck me. While not just referring to those in leadership positions, the speaker stated that real leaders have a habit of listening to those they are leading. Listening is a valuable character trait of natural leaders. Change is inevitable in government whatever the reasons for such changes could be. We should expect changes and often when such changes come from leadership, it is indeed possible that they are necessary considering the fact that leaders see a much bigger picture than followers or at least they are expected to see a much bigger picture.
In recent years there have been a few changes in our beloved Nigeria that people generally question. Late last year there was a whole lot of clamour about the fuel subsidy removal up until the bold announcement on its implementation in early January 2012. The reaction to the announcement was as expected generally not favourable. In Lagos state in particular there was also the long debate about toll gates built along Lekki-Epe express. Interest groups protests were met with counter-protests, alleged arrests and finally, the toll gates now stand declaring victory for the state government on the matter.
Recently there has also been talk of introduction of new naira denominations that could make it easier to handle cash in banks (as well as in drug cartels, armed robbery gangs, smuggling gangs and so on). A lot of people are of the opinion that this could lead to inflation and further devaluation of our currency. The possible introduction of ‘coins of large value’ also brings in a certain degree of complexity to the situation.
While one side or the other may never be completely correct since the full effects of some of these decisions only unfold in the long run, what we want to point out here is the fact that leadership in Nigeria has to show very clearly that the opinions of the people, the masses not just the elite, matter in government’s decisions. Without that, the average citizen’s sense of belonging and commitment to the development of Nigeria will keep tunnelling downwards. Each person needs to know that his opinion matters.
Listening to people who have a different viewpoint, people who are not sitting in the same aloof-from-reality towers as you are often helps you review your thoughts as a leader if you are sincere about sustainable development. We do appreciate the depth of experience and intellectual prowess exhibited by the young, dynamic and adept officials in government but I do think that we still need to move from ruling to leading in our practice of governance. Listening is key to leading.
This post was originally published in September, 2012