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Opinions of Saturday, 24 March 2018

Columnist: Kwaku Badu

The unanswered question of leadership: Do you prefer a living horse or a dead goat?

Leadership today is indeed lacking the quality of urgency and inspiration. We have politicians in our midst whose rhetoric only deludes and proselytises millions of supporters. However, what these leaders do not provide is simple but essential: a true leadership.

A leader can be defined as a person who is appointed, elected or informally chosen to direct and co-ordinate the work of others in a group (Fiedler, 1995).

The preceding extant definition underscores the fact that the formally appointed leader cannot always be a real leader, but it is also confines the notion of leader to a group context. If we take the word “group” literally, this definition precludes leaders of nations, large corporations and so on, except in so far as they lead a small group of senior colleagues.

On the other hand, leadership can be considered to be the personal qualities, behaviours, styles and decisions adopted by the leader. In other words, it concerns how the leader carries out his/her role. Hence while the role of leader can be described in a job description, leadership is not so easily pinned down.

Ironically, it is believed that the dynamics of leadership where followers do not have direct contact with the leader may differ from the one that has regular contact with its followers. Take, for example, Waldman and Yammarino (1999) have argued that similar concepts can be used to describe leadership styles in these two situations, but the ways in which followers form the impressions of the leader differ. For those close to the leader, impressions are derived from the day-to-day interactions, whereas for others, impressions depend more on the leader’s stories, visions and symbolic behaviours and also on how well he/she performs.

Interestingly, early investigations, which focused on the personal characteristics or the behaviours of individuals who emerge as leaders, were followed by those that considered the influence of situational factors of leadership behaviour.

For example, most recent research interests have focused on relationships between leaders and followers, with some experts on the topic stressing the need to study followership. This has been argued as important, not so much because all leaders are also followers, but also because modern notions of leadership place considerable emphasis on the power and importance of followers in ultimately legitimizing and enabling leadership.

In Ghana for instance, we have in our midst people we may call leaders. Nevertheless, we have regrettably been enduring the deficiency of true leadership for some time now.

After attesting to so much duplicities and such frequent abuse of power, many Ghanaians have ceased believing these leaders. Unfortunately, however, no matter how sardonic we may turn out, we abdicate ourselves to the fact that we require someone to keep our nation in order, since we are engaged with our own lives, we are obliged to elect or appoint officials to manage the affairs of the nation. Nevertheless, the big question is: do we have the right leaders’ to direct us to the right direction?

Yes, we do need true leaders. Obviously, we need someone who has vision, direction, and strength to reach our goals. Suffice it to state that a leader provides a new direction and inspires us to abandon our “old ways of doing things”.

And when we are imbibed with our self-interests, be infinitesimal or cyclopean- a leader sends out a wake-up call, alerting us to seek the true priorities in life. This sense of urgency is just as important in a leader as a sense of foresightedness.

In practice, genuine leadership must give people a long-term vision that absorbs their lives with meaning; it must point them in a new direction and show how their every action is an indispensable part of a positive change ahead, for it is not good enough for our leaders to only teach us to be productive or efficient; they need to inspire us to change or improve the world in a productive and meaningful way. And, this creates a compelling sense of urgency and afflatus.

With so many people claiming to be leaders these days, how do we distinguish between a true leader and a demagogue? In order to do justice to the preceding question, we must pause and sigh deeply and ask: What is it that a leader is actually trying to achieve? Apparently, a true leader wants nothing more than to make people independent, as leaders in their own rights. Instead of trying to deceive us with his or her oratory, a true leader reflects our own light back to us.

Biblically, for instance, Moses was a paradigmatic leader. We read in Exodus that he was a shepherd - a rather unpretentious beginning for the man who would speak to God. He kept watch as thousands of sheep grazed the fields. Moses noticed that one sheep was missing and went off to look for it, finding it at a distant apart. When the sheep had finished drinking, Moses lifted it onto his shoulders and carried it back to the flock. When Jehovah God saw this, he became aware that Moses was a man of reason, empathy and selfless devotion, a man truly worthy to lead His people; a man who would put his empathetic qualities at the disposal of the needs of his subordinates. After all, no one was keeping an eye on Moses; Moses could easily have thought to himself, “why be concerned with one sheep when there are thousands”?

We tend to believe that a leader is a person who is well-connected, who is powerful or charismatic or wealthy. We judge our leaders by what they have. But a true leader should be judged by his/her extraordinary qualities, not -- ego, impertinent boldness, and self-interest.

In theory, a true leader sees his/her work as altruistic service toward accomplishing a goal. That is by putting the acquired skills, experience, knowledge and empathetic qualities at the disposal of the needs of his/her subordinates. As the sages say, “Leadership is not just power and dominance; it is service to mankind.”

Fellow Ghanaians, I think it is about time we distinguished between a demagogue and a true leader. In this way, we would avert the apocalypse of our dear nation sinking deeper and deeper into the mire.

But the big question is: how do we stop backing the ‘losing horses?’

In sum, for me, I’ll always choose a living horse over an insensitive cadaverous goat that can’t and won’t bother to respond to the needs of real human beings.

K. Badu, UK.

k.badu2011@gmail.com