I spent the last almost two weeks away speaking at a conference in the Philippines and on a visit to Thailand – a most welcome break from the highly toxic politics that has dominated the nation in the same period. On several occasions, I could not help but feel envious – perhaps even jealous – of a people determined and doggedly focused on growing their nations. The evidence is there for all to see: the magnificent infrastructure, the visibly bustling economy, and the growing industries. Yet, for all practical purposes, most Asian nations comprise of people just like us – struggling with realities of poverty and serious inequities. Some of the poorest people of the world are hosted in Asia, though some of the richest are also of the same extract. So why are we being left behind?
It is the great leadership guru, John Maxwell who made that oft quoted line: Everything rises and falls on leadership. In so saying, Maxwell underlined the significance of leadership in initiating and sustaining success in any enterprise. When families crumble, organisations fail, or nations crash, it is almost certain there is either a vacuum or poor leadership at the top. Likewise, when you see a successful and cohesive family, a high impact organisation, or a developed nation; in all certainty, there is astute leadership at the top.
But, there is a significant difference between retaining a gifted leader and realising good leadership. Leader-based success almost never survives turbulences in the long haul. Many are families that have had wonderful fathers or hardworking mothers as doyens of success; yet, when that parent or parents die or are incapacitated, those families disintegrate, and business empires pitifully crumble. Likewise, organisations, institutions, and even nations that have depended on gifted leaders have gone down at the departure of those individuals. Why?
There is a significant difference between a good leader and good leadership. Whereas a good leader maybe one gifted individual steering an enterprise onto success, good leadership is about establishing robust systems and structures that guide the organisation to prosperity. Such systems and structures outlast any individual leader. Great parents, for example, lay clear foundational values, build strong relationship structures, and establish healthy socio-economic systems for their families. Such families are built to last. They weather the storms of life for generations. The same is true of organisations, institutions, or nations. Successful organisations or nations are those where leaders intentionally and consistently uphold values, respect systems, and follow laid down structures.
As Commander General, Ulysses Grant was an American hero having helped win the Civil War in 1865. He later became the 18th US President and worked hard to remove the vestiges of slavery. But, Grant had a love for speed. On one occasion he was pulled over by a traffic officer, William West. “Mister President,” said West, “I want to tell you that you were violating the law by driving at reckless speed. Your fast driving, sir, has set the example for a lot of other gentlemen. It is endangering the lives of the people who have to cross the street in this locality.” Duly reprimanded, Grant apologised and promised that it wouldn’t happen again.
But in less than twenty-four hours, West once again caught the President flying at breakneck speed. “I am very sorry, Mr President, to have to do it, for you are the nation’s chief executive, but my duty is plain, sir: I shall have to place you under arrest!” To this Grant responded, “Do your duty, my good man.” West then escorted him to the police station, where the US Commander in Chief was swiftly booked and fined. Whatever else you may call it, that is great leadership – laying the right foundation for the making of a great nation.
There is no doubt that Kenya has gifted leaders in almost every sector, not least, in the political arena. Unfortunately, what we acutely lack is leadership. The men we adore, and the women we worship, appear to have neither regard for values, nor respect for laid down systems and structures. In pursuit of power or the preservation thereof, they violate the laws with impunity, as has been clearly demonstrated this past week, by both the opposition and by government. And then we wonder why nations that started the race after us have surpassed us. The Swahili say: Ukiona vyaelea, vimeundwa – If you see vessels sail, they have been crafted. Is it not time we got serious about crafting our own? It all begins with leadership – not just leaders.
- The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries (CITAM).