Leadership by walking around – (LBWA)
If leaders want to really feel the pulse of the people, there is nothing more effective than good old – Leadership by Walking Around. Not walking around to cut the tapes and commission projects and roads (whose proceeds they have corruptly enriched themselves with) – that many insincere political leaders enjoy doing with newshounds in their tow, nor the type that was characteristic of ministers in previous military regimes who we heard scream and lambast the contractors on TV only to “look good” for the Nigerian public. What I am referring to is the simple yet powerful act of getting off the high horse of your position and the comfort of your executive office, and moving around to observe the work of your colleagues; offer meaningful praise; give constructive feedback, but most of all to listen to them and connect with their realities.
In the last couple of years, no one has been a better poster-boy for this than Nigeria’s Vice President, H.E. Yemi Osinbajo LBWA who has made a number of unscheduled trips to mechanical villages and parks, schools and airports, and has been both candid and gracious in his comments and interactions. This is a much better way for any leader to spend his day rather than moving from one “meeting” to another or attending to numerous state events and giving big speeches which may never translate to real change in the lives of the people. By getting down to the people, leaders can get a first hand view of some of their pain, and even more importantly, share their vision and aspirations with the people.
During the week I was interviewed by a Doctoral Candidate who is preparing a thesis on Servant Leadership – the tautological contraption that is used to make the distinction between the vile and power-drunk leaders that we have become so acquainted with in the world, and the sincere ones – very few who have made a difference in our world. LBWA gives leaders a unique opportunity to serve, because it guarantees the practice of the six virtues of “servant leaders”, what I like to refer to as the behaviours that create leadership that inspires and leadership that endures. So, if you want your influence as a leader to inspire people to higher levels of commitment and performance; as well as create a legacy that outlives you and endures forever, then start to practise LBWA and live-out these virtues that inspire and endure.
The first set of these virtues are: Co-owned Vision, Values and Empathy. When leaders spend time connecting with their people LBWA-style, they get the chance to share their vision, get feedback on that vision and create an opportunity for the vision to be co-owned by the people they lead. Rather than postulating about your vision in a uni-directional monologue that has become characteristic today, LBWA leaders are able to engage, explain and set expectations about their vision in a manner that binds the followers. In doing so, their values and beliefs are shared with the people, and they are able to also empathise with the people and take back some of their realities as input to better decision making. For example, at the recent Lagos Airport visit, the Vice President challenged the Airport Manager and his engineers to improve their “creative problem skills”, confirming the dearth of such skills in Africa as highlighted in an article by Efosa Ojomo and Clayton Christensen in the January 2017 Edition of Harvard Business Review, perhaps paving the way for a greater focus on building creative problem skills in our public servants. When he visited the mechanic village in Abuja, the VP was not as combative, as this time he had to speak words of consolation and hope to the mechanics after getting a chance to listen, feel their pains and empathize with them.
The second set of the virtues are Simplicity, Service and Sacrifice – the virtues that ensure that your leadership endures and that its impact lasts beyond your time. Great leaders around the world are never remembered for the number of roads or houses they built, or any of the superficial successes they may have achieved – after all these things are appropriated for in a budget and executed by public servants and contractors, only a very inept leader won’t be able to deliver! History is often more concerned with the deeper issues of how leaders stayed connected with their people like Mahatma Gandhi LBWA wearing his saris and harvesting salt with his bare hands; how leaders served by helping their people acquire practical life skills like JJ Rawlings LBWA, and Kwame Nkrumah LBWA; and how leaders were prepared to take a “bullet” for their people and the principles and ideals they stood for like Nelson Mandela LBWA and Thomas Sankara LBWA.
Is this LBWA only for political leaders? Definitely NOT, so please move beyond the references to Osinbajo LBWA and his other co-conspirators in this act of effective leadership. I only mentioned them with the hope that the rest of us whose schedules cannot be as busy as the Acting President of Africa’s largest country and economy will be inspired to get off our back-sides and get to do some Leadership by Walking Around today, and truly inspire our people and organizations to higher levels of commitment and productivity and create a legacy that lives forever.
Omagbitse Barrow is teacher of Values Based Leadership with Learning Impact NG