This is an except on Leadership from “Becoming”
I visited Congo-Brazzaville when I was eight-year-old. It was an intriguing experience. I was with a group of pioneers all my peers. Despite our tender ages we were considered the first ‘South African delegation’ they had ever hosted.
We were treated like royalty, ferried around the city, with newsmen following us and putting our pictures in the newspapers and on the evening news, and were guests at the one of the seven presidential palaces. We stayed in plush hotels and dined at places I could tell the adults were impressed by. My clothes were too small for me by the time I went back home a month or so later.
An Afrikan child gaining weight is not particularly problematic. It is even encouraged primarily because it means the child is well fed and not sickly, both indicators of good parenting. On a continent all too familiar with poverty, excess is something to celebrate. And few can celebrate it as well as former Francophone colonies.
Not only was I introduced to excess in Congo-Brazzaville, but to superstardom. As luck would have it, the TV series taking the country by storm at the time was Shaka Zulu. So here were these little struggle kids of ‘Mandela’, guests of the president, and one of them was called Shaka. It was like being the frontman in a teeny-bopper rock band. This inevitably caused some tensions among us. I remember getting into an argument with one of my group about who copied whom when one of us put his fist in the air to rapturous applause and the other followed suit. I put it down to an early episode of name envy.
Between you and me, being the toast of the town is an incredible feeling. Years later, I would reflect on this when I wondered about the ‘problem of Afrikan leadership’. If I had put on 5kg in a month and had fallen out with my friends over who got the most attention after only a few weeks in the limelight, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to let go of the trappings of power and adoration that come with many years of rule.
Many of us learned folks tend to look at social issues rationally, not unlike management consultants who spend more time poring over a restructuring strategy, rather than speaking to and acquiring ideas and buy-in from the staff. Our assumptions often don’t take into account the most important variable: people.
We forget that people are people – flawed, and dangerous when endowed with too much power. We trust that the goodness of our leading figures’ hearts or the sharpness of their minds means they are deities imbued with wonderful qualities such as wisdom, knowledge, vision, courage, fairness, kindness, love for their people, desire for progress, a sense of heritage, good communication skills, calm under pressure, humility, and so on. And yet many of us don’t realise that for a leadership to be all that calls for a great deal of input from people who embody each respective character trait.
As a kid I loved Voltron. It was a televised cartoon series about a super robot made up of five different robots which were manned by five youngsters. Later, another cartoon series, Captain Planet, embraced the same concept; he was an amalgam of the different powers of five youngsters bestowed with special rings that gave each a special talent. ‘By your powers combined I am …’ he would say. Like the human body, the whole is often greater than its parts.
That in my view is the body of leadership … it is the sum of many people playing their part to the best of their abilities. The minute we leave it to a few, even if they are the best and brightest of us, we begin to lose the magic.
This article is an excerpt from my book Becoming, you can get the kindle Edition here