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Politicians must be conscious of burden of leadership

By David Oginde | August 9th 2015

During President Obama’s visit, he said two things about his connection with Kenya that caught my attention. Concerning the desire of the people of K’Ogelo to have him visit, President Obama expressed how he would have wished to, but could not because of his position as President of the United States of America.

With regard to the delay in visiting Kenya, the President revealed that he had been careful not to appear to play favourites too soon in his leadership. Whereas these may seem like ordinary, logical, and plausible reasons or even excuses, they represent a critical reality of leadership that many of us often miss — the burden of leadership. Leadership imposes on an individual certain demands that have the effect of drawing them from the ordinary pathways of life to the rigours of distinctive living.

Thus, when a person takes up a position of leadership, whether as the class monitor in a nursery school, or as President of the United States, there are certain expectations immediately thrust upon them. The class monitor is instantaneously transformed from an ordinary pupil to the embodiment of what a perfect pupil should be.

Her performance in class is no longer personal, but an inadvertent representation of the academic prowess of class monitors. Should this poor kid need to cry, she must be conscious that she will be judged by higher standards; because class monitors are not supposed to cry. It’s the burden of leadership.

The fact is that the higher up the leadership ladder, the greater the leadership burden. Hence, if you are the President of the USA, then whatever you say or do, can and may be used against you. President Obama could not, therefore, simply fly Air Force One to Kenya, his father’s homeland, for a grand homecoming soon after his election. Neither could he, during his recent visit, mobilise national security apparatus of the USA and of Kenya to facilitate his visit to his people at K’Ogelo. Though he would definitely have loved to, he was constrained by the burden of leadership.

It is amazing that, whereas President Obama was acutely conscious that he could not use state resources to visit his relatives in Kenya, let alone at K’Ogelo, many leaders have absolutely no qualms mobilising state or organisational resources for personal use.

Whereas President Obama was careful not to appear to play favouritism with his nation of origin, many of our leaders have no difficulty populating government ministries, departments, companies, or churches with their relatives or members of their ethnic community. It was similarly interesting to note just how many whites were on Obama’s team — including his personal security detail. Considering the level of hatred he has suffered as an African American leader, one would have expected him to find safety in surrounding himself with “my people.” But no. He chose instead to bear the burden of leadership.

As I look at leaders in our nation — whether political, public, corporate, or religious — it is apparent that many have not captured the gravity of this burden of leadership. Our thoughts, words, and deeds, often do not seem to reflect the consciousness that we are no longer ordinary persons.

A leader’s thoughts must be pure. There are thoughts that I simply must refuse to entertain. Even if people plant ideas in my mind, yet because I am a leader, I will refuse to ponder over any wrong or evil thoughts.

The leader’s words must be guarded. Every so often I may feel justified in telling somebody or some people off with some choice words, but because I am a leader, I will weigh my words. Similarly, a leader’s actions must be circumspect.

Because I am a leader, there are things I simply will not do; places I will not go; and kinds of people with whom I will not associate. Not because I am not able to; not even because I would not like to; but simply because the burden of leadership weighs heavily on my shoulders. My actions are thus restrained.

This is why when we see leaders exchange abusive words in public, it communicates that that person or those people have not appreciated the task and responsibility upon them as leaders. When leaders fight with chairs and spray one another with water in public, they do not realise how deeply they undermine the honour that comes with leadership.

When a leader sends tweets and posts Facebook messages that incite ethnic animosity, it says such a person has lost or has never been seized of the dignity that comes with leadership. For as Mike Maccann puts it: Before we can earn the “luxuries” of leadership, we must first be willing to suffer the burden of its hardships. Good leadership calls for wisdom and sacrifice.

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