Leadership is knowing when it’s time to pass the baton

President Yoweri Museveni

When we talk about leadership it is often about one rising to the occasion or preparing oneself to assume a specific leadership position. I think there needs to be a conversation and perhaps training on when it’s time to pass the baton. Leadership is about grooming, teaching, developing the next generation of leaders. Leadership should not be rooted in the ability, gift or talent one has; it should be rooted in how one uses their ability, gift or talent to make a difference or an impact. It should be concerned with how effective you can use your time to make an impact or create sustainable change. Most importantly, real leadership understands that the greatest impact you can have is what you leave behind. As we know, this idea and concept of leadership is often missing in politics, especially in countries that are ruled by autocratic leaders whose understanding of leadership is synonymous with how long they lead.

The recent resignation of 93 year-old President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who served as President of Zimbabwe since 1980 is a reflection of many African countries whose leaders are not willing to step aside and relinquish power.

President Robert Mugabe is no different than President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Republic of Congo, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, or President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Masogo of Equatorial Guinea. As of 2016, Africa has about six leaders who have been in power for three decades or more, amassing a combined tenure of 201 years in power. The Arab spring is an example of what happens to leaders who overstay their time and are unwilling to make the necessary changes to address the needs and concerns of their citizens. Most importantly, a generation that is unable to exercise their political desires or is not given the opportunity to contribute their talent, education and skills to the political development of a country grow despondent to their political leaders.

The Arab spring was responsible for ousting long serving rulers in the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak, Tunia’s former President Zin al Abideen and Muammar al Gaddafi of Libya, are all long-time rulers despised after 23, 29, and 42 years in power.

As a leader, it is imperative to understand that timing is everything. There is a time to rise to the occasion and time to pass the baton. A time to set and manage the vision and a time to work with bright minds to achieve the vision. Effective leadership can ever happen in a silo. A government can never reveal its fullest potential without the collaboration of other intelligent minds.

Countries that experience the most political instability, civil wars, severe economic depressions are often led by leaders who lack understanding and the application of leadership fundamentals. Some of the major components that they lack are the ability to understand the service component of their position, lack the ability to hear and communicate effectively with their citizens and often suppress the organization of civil society.

Knowing when to pass the baton is not just concerned with those in political positions; it’s a message that is applicable to all in leadership positions. There needs to be more reflection on how leaders handle exiting their leadership positions. Healthy leadership acknowledges that at some point leadership will change therefore having a succession plan is being proactive.



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