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Opinions of Saturday, 3 October 2009

Columnist: Baafi, Alex Bossman

The Fatal Flaws That Derail Leaders

By Alex Bossman Baafi

There are many fatal flaws that derail leaders who find themselves in the various field of discipline. I would like to share a few of them here. There is the saying that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown and therefore to become a successful leader, one needs to be prepared, willing, organized, focused and be able to face the many challenging situations ahead the path of leadership career in order to be able to leave an indelible legacy in the minds of the followers.

In my humble opinion, one of the key steps to take by every leader gunning for success is to articulate a clear vision and direction. New leaders, more especially people in politics for that matter must immediately communicate a compelling vision and direction to signify what they will do during their terms in office. This is because their time had been calculated or fixed and be judged for their stewardship at the end of the stipulated time based on what they promised to do in their vision. Articulating a vision and direction is very important because it clearly defines the destination and pulls the team members forward by energizing them to make sacrifices in their onward march towards the destination that had been envisioned and clearly espoused by the leader. Unfortunately many people who put themselves forward to be leaders, and had the opportunity to be placed in leadership positions, lack clear vision and direction. The point is that without clear vision and direction with no roadmap to serve as a guide, what they engage in is rather a hit or miss affair. They then tend to resort to propaganda when they run out of excuses to try to explain issues of national interest to the people. Lack of vision and direction put some of the team members in the position to believe that their only job is to fill spaces as it were, and enjoy the status and privileges associated with their offices. In the developing world, virtually all political leaders fail to articulate what they stand for in their unique personality dreams. They often hide their lack of vision and direction by riding on the back of the open and vague manifestos of their political parties and with no vision to guide them, woefully fail their followers as leaders of substance. Not laying the necessary foundation to achieve the vision could haunt leaders to failure. There is the saying that if one does not know where he/she is going, then anyway can get him/her there. It is essential that guided by the objectives to be achieved, the leader lays the necessary foundation or put in place the necessary structures to achieve his objectives. In doing so, a strong team is critical to that foundation. Because human beings are more important in any strategy, the leader must surround him/her with well qualified, competent and respected officials to support the leader to maintain focus to achieve the goals. Given the ambitious nature of the national policy agenda always outline by political leaders in the developing world, especially on economy, education, healthcare, energy, water, infrastructure and what have you, all in an attempt to reduce poverty and underdevelopment, the leader must assemble a team that display ethics and integrity, envision the future, engage in teamwork, ready to practicalise new ideas and above all focus on delivering results. Instead, it seems to me that some leaders value people who could look and sound good in spinning propaganda more than they care about month-over-month results of proven performers. Such teams produce mediocre performance virtually all the time and contribute in no small measure to the failure of the leader.

Another fatal flaw that derails leaders is their failure to walk the talk. We must remember that leadership is a momentum game. This is the more reason why new leaders in new roles must whether the storm, no matter the incredible pressure on them, to get it right in their first few months in office. A leader’s early actions end up having a disproportionate impact on everything that follows. In the case of politics, political opponents and analysts, review every behavior, word, gestures and decisions of the leader, straining to discern intent and assess credibility: In my opinion, among the first critical goals of a leader in politics is to build credibility and create a general sense of can do spirit among the citizens that momentum is building up for a change by making the right symbolic gestures, identifying and securing early substantive wins and avoiding early failures. Fulfilling certain campaign promises and expectations of the people early go a long way to put the credibility of the leader and the governing administration in the public consciousness. There is no iota doubt at all in my mind that some significant early failures relating to drastic petroleum price reduction as promised, pre-mix issues at the time of peak fishing season, the current shortage of fuel nationwide and the actions and inactions of the current political administration had culminated into the waning of its credibility in the eyes of its political rivals in the country. We must all know that we will not be able to build trust in the citizenry until our leaders lean how to communicate honestly. To be honest here, politicians are seen as those who set standards of behavior when they are in opposition and then violate them when in power and therefore are perceived as lacking integrity. To counter these leadership flaws above, I believe it is not too late for leaders to set clear vision and direction where there is none, or reviewing the existing ones where there is any and must be followed closely with the foundation or structures to get to the goal bearing in mind that competent team is critical success factor in this task.

The question of rebuilding trust in the leadership is an arduous one but surmountable. My few words of advice are that firstly, leaders need to make conscious decision to tell the truth and stop the propaganda because once you develop a reputation for straight talk, people will return the favour. Secondly, leaders must encourage people to speak truth to power. It is notoriously difficult for people lower in a hierarchy to tell their boss unpalatable truth but that is what the boss needs to know, because people down have access to information that the boss does not know. Leaders should create the conditions for people to be courageous. Thirdly, Leaders must admit their mistakes as this give people around them permission to do same.

In addition, leaders should be aware that lack of energy and passion, poor judgment in prioritizing in the face of scarce resources and refusal to learn from mistakes are some of the fatal flaws that could easily derail them. In conclusion, I will like to humbly tell leaders in the developing world in general and that in this country in particular that bad leadership in good times can be hidden, but ineffective leadership in bad times is a recipe for disaster.

Email: abkbossman@yahoo.co.uk