Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Leadersip

Leadership excites interest at all levels of human interaction.  Whether consciously sought and established, as through a democratic election or subconsciously instituted, by tradition and usages, as is the example of parents leading a household, or even, imposed over the led through brazen coercion and infliction of fearful autocracy, the leader's mantle is regarded with rousing passion, quiet, appreciative acceptance and some aversion. 

Some willingly subject themselves to their leaders, fawning over them and risking their own comfort, to defend and promote the reputation and interest of their sovereign.  Generally, however, majorities everywhere can barely tell the difference between one leader or another: they have much more immediate personal concerns to attend to, and the sovereign has enough resources at his disposal to not only fend off his troubles, but also to get his way, anyway.  A sizeable minority will feel subjugated and oppressed by the authorities, and will sour the commune with their ceaseless rants, gripes and anguished whines.

Whether to love and consort with, or hate and fear leadership is a matter well settled by Niccolo Machiaveli.

The prism of mind sieves and sorts the ray of leadership into a wide spectrum of technicolour strips, at the beginning and end of which are vision and vocation.  And rarely does it happen that a single person, as  leader, possesses a wide enough temperament to encompass both extremes.  In the paragraphs that follow, I attempt to cross the breadth of this frith.

a). Visionary leaders are strategic in their thinking: they weave one desired direction or destination for their realm, and are focused on large steps that, though in themselves appear unco-ordinated, lead to the one end.  Visionaries invent solutions to pressing barriers to progress.  They roam and range with the wind, and dare to interpret what mere mortals have difficulty thinking about. 

To be visionary not only requires a deep appreciation of the wishes and desires of society, short-term sacrifice, and a lot of patient action, but also, and far more importantly, the inculcation of a saintly self-discipline, the will to plod on an unrelenting uphill track in the fog that is human prediction of future reality.  It calls for consistent inconsistency - a flexible willingness and ability to reconsider general opinion in new light with changing times. It demands an enduring adaptability to circumstances as they unfold, and undying hope, with the one visionary aim as the ultimate beacon.

The visionary leader seeks the true germ of things; he carves new footholds and leads the risky walk up the cliff of intuition, guiding humanity on the journey it must take, in the sun-glazed direction of progress that it must face, thereby engraving his legacy to leave the world in the state it ought to be. He seeks inspiration and new thought, and sieves through old ideas for linking principles and the spirit that animates them all. A visionary uses his goal as his life's purpose, and were he to encounter constraints and bottlenecks, responsibly swallows the bitter pill of failure if he is thwarted in his endeavour. 

However, vision is the most callousing of work, tiring the body and wearing the mind; it drinks effort and gobbles gluttonous chunks of time to actualize. The masses being impatient, seeking the quickest of fixes and relying on the approbation of others, are easily swayed and distracted from deep, esoteric ideas. 

Anyhow, because they take gambles, daring to challenge established norms and behaviour, visionaries make courageous leaders, who wear new paths and walk at the head of the pack.  Without a script, except the call of destiny, they establish causes and rally the masses to rise to the challenges of their remaining days and beyond.  They hatch progress from unborn time.

b). Vocational leaders draw out and perform what must be done immediately.  They think tactically, and operationalize visions.  They aim to deliver on ideals, one ladder rung at a time, and seek effectiveness and efficiency in their work.  Vocational leaders are professional: being very consistent and methodical, and relying on their vast knowledge and expertise.  They achieve objectives by applying the power of their passion to their tasks.  They revel in the process of getting the work done, excellently. 

Professionals create procedures, standards, rules and guiding principles to foster efficiency and quality, reduce avoidable error and increase productivity, saving on resource misapplication. They are innovators who relish the challenge of directing diverse effort to the accomplishment of each new task. Excellence and consistency require much concentration, and much devotion to duty.  These values call for control and focused direction of the powers of man.  Professionals trust that if something can be done, it must be done well. 
This focus on detail can be distracting on large, linked processes, but is the driver of all progress.  Because of their insistence on procedure, professionals make very good implementors: managers and workers.  They lead, like shepherds of the flock in the fields, from behind, and deliver every time. Their insistence on rules and procedures may hurt inventive thought, and lock out some individuals from contributing in ways that are non-conformative. 

The true professional works with the world as it is, facing his most immediate challenges first, and working to avoid all occurences that have, by the universal suffrage of antiquity, been found wanting and measly in their contribution to progress.  Significantly, vocational leaders must have a cause established before them, a path wrought for them to walk on; a way walked before for them, a hill climbed aforetime, a chasm spanned, for them to recount its story and estimate its worth on the golden scales of history. This debt to past heroism they repay by standardizing processes, marking out pitfalls, blocking dangerous detours and generally enhancing the safe flow of traffic on the highways of human advancement, howsoever steep and convoluted they may be.

It follows rationaly, that while visionaries are the true leaders, designers of principle; the professionals, the managers, are the interpreters and weavers to visibility, of the threads of wisdom.  When the visionary says that there exists cotton fluff that can be woven into thread and worked on a loom to create cloth, the professionals plant the cotton, pick it, sort the fluff, work the loom and weave the shirt.  Without the 'professional', the shirt would remain a concept of the mind.  Without the visionary concept, cotton would remain a wild plant.

My nation needs both leaders, obviously.  But, perhaps, in an age of timid men and overused principle, we need a few more brave hearts, to follow their bliss and walk out of the cradle; perhaps, to raise the antennae of their minds to far off corners of the universe and transmit home new ideas that will inspire others to venture out and break ground on the vast virgin fields of this nation.

Were I to choose, I think of listening out for something worthwhile.
We have enough expert workers, don't you agree?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Life is a Strip of Moebius.

Life is a Strip of Moebius'
winded, long, without end.
What some hate, nay, abuse
another will die to defend.
Of colours, races profuse,
cold feelings that hearts rend.
What love one finds diverse,
a stranger loved bids: Attend!
Helter-skelter some accuse,
its pace to nowhere, my friend.
And since to stop all refuse,
Who can tell of its last end?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Changing Places, Changing People.

What is the purpose of man?  To hold an idea and purposefully persuade other people to give ear to that point of view, and if moved in heart, to walk over and give assent to it.  I am wholly convinced that persuasion is the only proper intellectual process.  Now, there is no easy way of convincing people.  Scepticism seems to increase as the new idea tugs at the heart of the inductee.  Nature abhors disturbances, and this level meniscus is no more exhibited than in people's worldviews.  People will only welcome change if it is inevitable.  It therefore serves the propounder of a great idea best, if s/he can courageously go fast ahead and implement it, while the indecisive masses mull over its viability.  Man is largely a fatalistic being, who will almost predictably 'live with what he can do nothing about.' 

If you build a highway, someone will ride on it.  If you build a hospital, someone will convalesce in it.  And somebody else will train to be a nurse, and a teacher, mechanic, and all the rest.  Objects react to objects and spirits respond to spirits.  To change a people, just change their place.  In this era of 'improving access to services,' to urbanize a rural township is to influence the hinterland in a most profound way.  Most people have ideas of how to ameliorate their lowly positions, all they need is a helping hand out of the trench.  Where they will go once they stand on the firm ground of Equality, is the subject of the Bill of Rights. 

Overwhelming majorities are always led, whichever way the leader decides.  In great societies, this malleability works well to yield unimaginable progress to the population, when a visionary mastermind strides boldly up the public stage, faces the audience and exhorts them to see their world through the technicolour lenses of his inspired pair of eyes.  That is how you end up with Rome, the British Empire, America or the Panama Canal.  That is how Kwame Nkrumah birthed the Independence struggles of Africa, and how Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired the Civil Rights movement in the United States.   But, on a far wider scale, this technique has been misapplied, or rightly utilized to further wrong, deceptive intentions.  The world abounds with histories of masses roused to fight wars that are not their own, and afterwards becoming embittered when this realization sinks in.  And that is how you end up with the genocide of Rwanda, the electoral pogroms of Kenya, the xenophobia of South Africa, or, as earlier and on a larger scale, the Holocaust of Nazi Germany.  Majorities focusing on inane illusions, and not minding their supervening self-interest. 

That is how the masses of Guinea can 'demonstrate' to have their coup-executing leader returned home from Burkina Faso, to suffocate them with his deadly whims.  Honestly, a majority that asks for military rule is quite incorrigibly misguided and irascible.  Why not forment a 'civilian coup d'etat' against that headless military?  I never saw a better opportunity washed downstream.  And all is now well, because this sense has been grasped!  Since I wrote this, some sense seems to have seeped into the sills of their minds.

Possibly, that means there always is a vacuum in the mass-mind that can be filled by anyone with a bold idea.  No one can deny that a coup is a bold idea, or that ending a genocide, like Paul Kagame's Rwandese Patriotic Front did, is a heroic deed.  The odd point is why heroism must, on our patch of Earth, only be associated with ill. 

There is no point lamenting about our present.  And the best way to face our future is to defeat our past.  We learn without heeding the many lessons of the frail tastes of man.  Does one man, for example the former NBA great, Michael Jordan, inspire a global male hair trend of skinheadism?  Does England's David Beckham popularise feminine masculinity?  Did President Barack Obama re-ignite the embers of hope in the breast of every global citizen, for unity in a fractured world?  Does Shakespeare still clutch the rhythm and diction of the English tongue like the beat of a musical tune? 

Yes.  Infact, that is the point.  That it only takes one man.  But a 'man' it must be.  Not some crybaby or demagogue, and definitely not some copycat.  It takes a man with Adam's originality, and Luanda Magere's boldness.  A man with Mandela's foresight, Gandhi's patience, Emerson's wisdom and Euripides' courage - to say, 'Give me a firm place and I will move the world!'  Critically, it serves well to remember, that all genius is borrowed.  The genius is the dwarf who learns and adapts to standing still on the shoulders of giants. And no dwarf ever complained of an obstructed view from so lofty a perch.  He becomes a giant at that level and is only limited by the shortness of his attitude. 

The only firm place I offer you is the strong conviction within your heart, of the truth of your view.  Solidify your idea, and convince the world to move.  You can then claim all the fame of having moved it.  Friend, if you can move people, you will have changed their position, you will have changed their place in life, and a civilization will owe you one.

Are you a 'man' to change a place, and change a people?  You are the leader!