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Awori delves into what ails leadership in Africa

Arts & Culture

We have all worked under bosses who are so unsure about their capabilities, who, to cover for their inadequacies, tend to harass and push out workers they fear might be smarter than them. This has the effect of negatively affecting staff morale, a thing that ultimately sabotages the overall performance of the company/institution.

Unfortunately, such leaders permeate most African countries’ corporate and political spheres. No wonder then that Africa finds itself in the sorry place of perennial under-development. It all boils down to leadership.

Good leaders, in whatever sphere, inspire hope and faith among their subjects. The Bible, in Proverbs 29:2, sums up leadership nicely: “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”

There is an urgent need to address the leadership crisis in Africa so that those occupying leadership positions, whether in the public or private sector, can improve themselves.

A good leadership trait is the constant need to learn and thus improve. Manuals that seek to improve leadership skills are dime a dozen, but most tend to be round pegs in square holes, or vice versa.

Listen to Taaka Awori: “I was frustrated by the dearth of leadership material that spoke to our context and our realities. The material from John Maxwell or Harvard Business School is fantastic but often didn’t speak to the unique challenges of leadership on this continent; as we all know, leadership is highly situational.”

Being a graduate of the prestigious Harvard University herself and having held various leadership positions in the continent, Taaka must know what she is talking about. The frustration she talks about led her to write a book titled Leadership in Africa Redefined: Untold Stories.

This book was launched last Friday at the Fairview Hotel in Nairobi.

Now, before you dismiss this as ‘yet another motivational book’, kindly bear in mind that the author is not your typical run-of-the-mill motivational speaker who comes at the invitation of management to hustle you at your place of work with inane lectures about ‘performance when you’d rather be working to meet deadlines.

As mentioned, Taaka attended Harvard, where she studied for a B.A. in Government and has a Jurist Doctor (J.D.) in Law from Columbia University. She would be a hotshot corporate lawyer anywhere in the world or a business executive somewhere, but she chose to be a leadership coach.

Thus, when she puts pen on paper on leadership, those targeted better sit up and listen, in this case, read. Taaka, the founder/Chief Executive Officer of Busara Africa, uses the information she has gathered in the course of studies and long practice and customises that to meet specific African needs.

About the ‘untold stories’ bit, the author borrows from select experiences from African success stories from around the continent to put her thoughts into perspective. These are not just anecdotes she has read somewhere; they result from interacting with and interviewing these successful individuals. One enduring example is that of Madame Monica Geingos, the First Lady of Namibia. Monica is not just any other woman whom prominence was thrust upon by being married to the president. She is a leader of her own accord, a virtuous woman of integrity.

After completing her university studies, Monica opted to repay her student loans when the government was not particularly keen on following up those loans, which earned her derision and ridicule from her peers.

Out of sheer hard work, Monica became the managing director of Namibia’s largest equity fund, ranked as one of Africa’s Top 100 Economic Leaders. Twenty years after she had completed paying her student loan, the Namibian government, faced with huge debt, started mopping up debts, including long-forgotten student loans.

The government “even threatened to release the names of people who took loans and did not pay them back. Madame Geingos did not have to worry. She had done the right thing years ago,” writes Taaka.

Can the person you elected into office, at whatever level, be trusted to carry out duties with integrity like the Namibian First Lady did? The horror stories surrounding corruption and misuse of public resources, a daily staple of the news in Kenya, are enough to tell you what we can do with better leaders.

Taaka adds: “When I meet people in leadership positions, I sometimes ask myself, ‘What drives this person?’… If what seems to be driving them is the promotion, the prestige, the power, or the influence, then I know the impact of their leadership will be limited.” Ring a bell?

She writes about a certain annoying quality of insecure leaders: “…One leader I observed was unaware of his insecurity around his intelligence and technical competence. As a result, he was easily threatened by bright and competent staff. After realising their prowess, he would ostracise them from the team, causing them to leave the organisation.”

The book does not just point at the shortcomings of leaders. It goes to great lengths to offer practical solutions to leadership deficiencies, complete with test questions. Leadership that comes from a space of worthiness writes Taaka, births the ability to make difficult decisions. “Decision-making is one of the key things leaders do; many decisions are tough. Sometimes a tough decision will make a leader unpopular,” she adds.

This book does not just come in handy for leaders. It is also highly recommended for anyone wishing to improve themselves and the people they interact with. After all, isn’t everyone a leader in their own small way? 

Ngunjiri is the curator of Maisha Yetu, a digital Arts and Books media platform

[email protected]

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