Feature Article of Monday, 25 June 2012
Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi
20th June 2012
It is posited by gurus of leadership that critical situations in the history of mankind have produced some great leaders. These are known as situational leaders. They are like the blow- man in those cowboy and Red Indian films of yester-year. Situational leaders are deus ex machina or like gods sprung out of machines who come to save critical moments. Can we then state that Ghana is in a state of leadership crisis? Are Ghanaians expecting a miracle to happen? Are Ghanaians expectant of a messiah or a great man leader to emerge, come the December 2012 election, or the great man is already here with us now and we do not recognise him? Critical situations in history have produced great leaders such as Vladimir Illych Ulyanov Lenin, Chairman Mao Tse Dung, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Mahatma Gandhi, among many others. When the situation becomes very rough, a tough leader emerges from nowhere to ride the storm. Confucius of old once said that the sort of leader a group of people get, is a reflection of themselves and they do not have to complain. When the frogs differed bitterly among themselves as to who should be their king, they ended up electing not one of them but an outsider, a stork with a long beak, who unceasingly and incessantly pecked at them, and I believe all of them developed sores on their heads! No one but themselves decided to impose the stork as their tormentor-general. There is this story of a young man who ascended the throne on the demise of his aged father, whose reign was marked with tranquillity and progress. On ascension, the short-sighted parvenu decided to banish all old men from the land and he exiled them to a small island, off the mainland. He surrounded himself with young, inexperienced and greenhorn advisors, who ill-advised him to cut the dole to the aged, to ask all newly-wedded brides to spend their first weeks of honeymoon in the king’s palace, and no one was to put on the same garment as the king. The king called himself, Nana Katakyie Katawer Kyeretwie (KKK - Chief Strongman, Wearer of Leopard Skin). On his inauguration, he caused the people to go and hunt for a leopard with their bare hands, and you could imagine the death toll. He caused the leopard to be flayed and his skin to be clad in the raw hide. When it was dried up, it was difficult to remove. All his young advisors failed to find a solution, but unbeknown to the king, one smart guy took the initiative to go and consult the exiled old people, and the problem was resolved. Thereafter, the king reversed his earlier khakistocratic caveats and embraced gerantocracy. The island on which the elderly were exiled became known as Asowaantse ( The ear will not hear).
Right now in our nascent African countries, we desire a lemon squeezer leader who can bring the best out of us by elevating our status from a primary producer to a producer of manufactured goods (value adding process), as well as provider of high quality but affordable services such as health, education, transport, water, among others. We need some heavy doses of state intervention, state capitalism vis-à-vis public-private-partnerships, as was done in South Korea and is now on-going in China. We need to be hard working, obedient and less complaining. China, with its 1.6 billion people, is emerging as a world power because of the hard work and discipline of her people. I think there is too much media freedom in Ghana. Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants his or her voice to be heard. Everyone has instantly become a guru or expert on national issues. I think we need to elect a leader who is hard but rational and reasonable, in order to bring us to order, because it is said that order is the first law in heaven. In the early 60s, Nkrumah tried to elevate our status from a commodity exporter to a manufacturing nation, but his detractors among us conspired with outsiders to shoot down his plans. We are the architects of our own demise. If he had been allowed to function, we would by now have been somewhere near Malaysia or Thailand. Basically, we classify leaders as democratic, autocratic and laissez faire. I think a laissez faire approach or country-club leadership style is a free-for-all and organised chaos, or impoverished leadership style. It is a mediocre or middle-of-the-road style which is not suitable for any LEDC (less economically developed country). I also think a democratic leadership style is an expensive luxury for us, more especially for a nation which is yet to emerge on the global stage. What we need for accelerated economic development is a benevolent autocrat. Why do I say so? Studies by eminent researchers in the USA in the early part of the 20th century concluded that very successful corporations or companies were run autocratically or tele-guided centrally. Thus, in the so-called western democracies, they have unspoken duplicity, whereby their nations are macro-managed democratically, but micro-managed corporatively on democratic centralism basis. Their central governments sometimes smack of token democracy, because a few leaders get to call the big shots. That finding informed the likes of the Henry Fords, Rockefellers, J.P. Morgans of this world to consolidate their business empires by applying the principles of centralised planning. Ghanaians are no different from our friends in Asia or America, so we need heavy doses of benevolent autocrats. I believe the type of leadership suitable for Ghana is informed by our cultural heritage. We have a culture of male-dominated homesteads or patriarchal model. We believe in consensus decision making in the clan or Ebusua. We respect royalty, chiefs, family elders and our ancestors. All these point to the fact that we have to go back to our roots to rediscover our past, so that from the knowledge of the past, we can cast a beam of light on our path to see the way forward. No nation on earth can progress if it adopts the model of total democracy, total liberalized or free market economy, total capitalism, and total freedom of information act. All these western concepts are alien to us and we cannot implement them properly because they are misapplied and misinterpreted by us. From Nkrumah to Busia, to Rawlings, to Acheampong, to Kufuor and to John Atta Mills, we have seen a spectrum of leadership styles. People keep praising Nkrumah to the high heavens for his achievements. To some extent, also Rawlings and Kufuor have been hailed for their efforts at development of the country. These practised benevolent autocracy. Here, we might be reminded of the leadership continuum model of Tannenbaum and Schmidt or the leader – follower models of Hersey and Blanchard or that of Fiedler.
Ghanaians by nature abhor oppression, so dictatorship is repugnant to us. However, since we Ghanaians love freedom, we must realise that there is nothing like absolute freedom, because absolute concepts only exist in the abstract realm of Plato. Therefore, we must realise that reality requires us to accept bounded rationality of limited choices or constrained freedom, or freedom on stilts, or tethered freedom. Even as regards the paragon of freedom, the USA, there is nothing like absolute freedom. Human rights are constrained by statutes, by-laws, civil laws and ethical barriers. It is a general observation that whenever humans are allowed a lot of political space to operate in, they tend to abuse it. Sometimes, I tend to believe that we Ghanaians deserve to have khakistocracy (rule by the military) because of our stubborn nature. When we get a laissez-faire leader, we dub him, ‘Mr. Go Slow, or ‘Yutong Driver’. If a ‘Gentle Giant’ emerges, we demonise and slander him with accusations of theft. If a populist, messianic, missionary leader emerges, we pull him down by concocting lies to defame him. What then, at all (koraa), do we Ghanaians want our leaders to be? What, as a body collective, do we perceive leadership to be?
I think a pacifist leader is anathema to Ghanaians, so also is a belligerent or pugilistic leader who is bellicose. What then do we Ghanaians want from our leaders? A leader who is neither cold nor hot? A lukewarm, tepid and mediocre leader? That is what we get. It is GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). It is very sad that political leadership has been commercialised, leading to many parvenus (nouveau riche) in our midst, who make intemperate boom statements because of their ill-gotten wealth. We need leaders who have taken leadership as a career and have risen through the ranks, and have worked as professional leaders. We need leaders of magnanimity and not parvanimity (little minds), who have no love for the country. We earnestly desire leaders who are ready to sacrifice their time, effort, talent and resources to improve the lot of the average Ghanaian in the street, who cannot afford three decent meals a day. We need a leader who will trigger a green revolution so that the cost of living falls as regards basic foodstuffs. If we can put a stop to food imports, we can save a lot of foreign exchange which we can plough back into rural infrastructure development and the establishment of industries in our country (so called and maligned import- substitution industries). If we contemplate on the leadership grid (Mouton & Blake) vis-à-vis the worker style grid, we find that some of our leaders sat very long in the seat but achieved little (freeloaders) in the 9, 1 coordinate. We find others who stay the shortest time but achieve a lot (mercenary workers) in the 1, 9 coordinate. We also find the mediocre leader, who goes for a satisficing performance style (neither good nor bad; mediocre/middle-of-the-road) in the 5, 5 coordinate (c.f Herbert Simon’s Bounded Rationality; James Quinn’s Logical Incrementalism). The worst kind of leader stays the shortest and achieves nothing (1, 1 coordinate). This is impoverished leadership and a disaster. They are the throne-warmers and transitory-leaders.
The best leader stays the longest and achieves a lot (eager beaver) in the 9, 9 coordinate. This kind of leader has very high concern for the task and equally high concern for the followers’ welfare. He is John Adair’s action-centred leader in the total picture of satisfying needs of individuals, groups, organisations and demands/claims in the external environment. This leader is rare indeed. There is the bureaucratic-laden leader who follows the statute book dogmatically and believes in ritualistic procedures. In the process of following red-tape, many things go wrong, as room is created for the wound of corruption to fester, to become an open running sore. In my own opinion, Nkrumah so far achieved the status of eager beaver in terms of his ultra-patriotic stand for the welfare of Ghanaians, and his zeal to unify or unite all the tribes in Ghana. He also worked tirelessly for the liberation of Africa. In the leadership literature and typologies, we come across situational or contingency leaders who due to certain germane, salubrious and prevailing circumstantial opportunities, they are swept onto the crest of power. Once that disturbing situation gets rectified or normalized, they lose-their relevance and validity, and are dumped on the archives of forgotten things. In the early years of management theory, there was the Traits or Great Man leadership theory, which was based on the flawed assumption that leaders are born and not made. Perhaps, this could include hereditary leaders who inherit their leadership positions in society, by virtue of their birth, lineage or having been born with blue blood and a silver spoon in their mouths. These are groomed to be leaders and are taught the ropes whilst young.
It is unfortunate that in Africa today, certain political leaders are grooming their sons, brothers, wives and relatives to succeed them. This is a recipe for a French Revolution-like revolt. It is morally wrong for leaders to loot national resources to feather their nests and to give undue leadership advantage to their relations. This situation leads to oligarchy, aristocracy, plutocracy, elitism and other unwarranted social systems. These so- called revolutionaries and dyed-in-the-wool reformers, are themselves paradoxically reactionaries as their actions send the clock of progress far back into retrogression. They lay claim to being liberators but in the end, it turns out that they rode on the back of the people to liberate themselves and families in the long run. Ironically, it turns out that they came to liberate their immediate families from the clutches of abject poverty, and to propel and entrench them and catapult them into the ruling elite. History indeed repeats itself and it is inexorable. The Traits theory assumed that leaders were born with exceptional traits or features, physical, social and mental. It is now known that leadership can be learnt or acquired, perhaps at the university or an MBA Business School or at a Leadership Academy. In Ghana, we have GIMPA or Ghana Institute of Public Administration or Greenhill and the Military Command College. In the early sixties, before Nkrumah’s overthrow, we had Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute (KNII) at Winneba, my hometown. It was a place for training of potential leaders from all parts of Africa. In fact, many people claim that to become President, one does not require academic credentials, but perhaps one will need native wisdom and natural intelligence. I think that that argument falls apart in the face of globalisation, because Ghana is not an island. Our leader should be someone who is well read and can connect with events outside our shores. He or she should be well-versed in our cultural heritage and history, and be able to analyse our problems and offer practical solutions. Our leader must not be like an extinct volcano, or like a dormant volcano. In fact, he should not be a volcano at all. Nor should he be reactionary and fire-fighting.
We in Ghana do not want mobocracy (mob rule). Nor do we need spousocracy (where the spouse hides behind the elected leader and calls the shots behind the scenes in a kitchen cabinet or hen-pecked government). If need be, we also want a break with gerantocracy or government based on senility or old age. We should give political space to all age groups, in line with the constitutional strictures and stipulations. It seems Ghanaians are not yet ready for a female president, even though I am for the idea for a change. We do not cherish an absentee-landlord leader who, most of the time, is away from the country, attending endless conferences, ad nausea, ad infinitum. Our current constitution of 1992 prescribes an executive monarch or the presidential system. It is aired in some circles that the president has too many powers. I do not think Ghanaians are ready for a figure head or ceremonial president either. I think the best for us is a strongman leader who is his own man, who consults widely but is able to make his own independent decisions without vacillating. Part dictator, part democrat, part builder, part unifier, part busy bee or Edwuma wura (workaholic) and a role model. It is often said that the mark of a good leader is the one who rises to the occasion when there is a national crisis. When everything is normal, leadership cannot be tested. One of the headaches facing Ghana and the world today is mass youth unemployment. It takes a lot of innovation to overcome this problem and challenge. Perhaps, we could borrow lessons from history on how Lord Maynard Keynes in his 1930 book, written during the Great Depression, recommended demand-side interventions and undertaking massive infrastructure projects. Franklin Roosevelt in the USA bought into Keynes’s idea, and initiated the New Deal, which saw revival and recovery of the American economy. That is what I call visionary leadership. In my last article in these series of four parts, I will explore some ideas on power, and advance some metaphorical leadership styles that I have thought through, upon reflection.
In conclusion to this article, number three in a series of four, I will land on a philosophical note. In a philosophy class, the professor posed the question, ‘What do the politician, medical doctor and the toilet cleaner have in common?’ One smart guy answered that in categorical imperatives, they all belong to professions starting with the letter ‘p’. The politician is a pathetic liar in the profession of politics, the medical doctor is a pathological physician, and the toilet cleaner is a plebeian below the pile of society. Thus, the politician, the physician and the plebeian. The professor gave insight to the class that all three are mess-cleaners, as they clean up other people’s messes! Do we Ghanaians need a mess-cleaner president? The professor went on in his class in Moral Philosophy and asked the most beautiful lady in his class of about 60, which of the three professionals she would elect to marry. She goes, “Not a president please, because they tend to have roving, sexy eyes and they can pick and dump from a spectrum of more than 12 million Ghanaian women, old and young. Besides, they are liars as their riches will not make them stick to one woman. As for the medical doctor, he will make me lonely at home as he spends too much time in the theatre, opening up and suturing both live bodies and cadavers, like Leonardo da Vinci of old did. Besides, he is too free with lady nurses, and I am a kind of jealous type. As for the toilet cleaner, he may have muscle, and perhaps he may be good in bed, but he may smell. Besides, his profession is infra dig, and society will not be kind to me. Besides, he may have seen too many ladies’ restrooms and toilets, so much so that I think he will no more appreciate the hubris and vanity of beautiful ladies like me.” After the lecture, one student with a journalistic turn of mind approached the professor to enquire that if he were a father, which of the three professionals would he have recommended for his daughter. The professor simply said, “ It depends on the variables in the equation. It could be Atta the-mortuary-man or any other man. Remember, it is often said that love is blind, and beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Young sophomore, do not make a mistake of choosing a spouse for your daughter. If you do, you will not live your retirement in peace.”
I hope the author of this article is not choosing a president for Ghanaians!
N.B. The author is a Ph D candidate at the University of Lusaka, and the focus of his thesis is a niche area of leadership.