Leadership: We are as strong as the sum of our parts

Taiwo Odukoya

We are collectively as strong as our individual or constituent parts. This is as true for families as it is for organisations and nation states. And so, there is a sense in which we are all responsible for the successes or failures of the different strata of our community. What we cannot afford to do, therefore, is devalue the role we play in building society. Perhaps this was what Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind, when he said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michael Angelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’ Everybody’s contribution is significant, including yours.

All across the world today, there is a clamour for effective leadership. Demagoguery and rhetorical flourishes are coming up empty in providing real time solutions to the challenges of the postmodern age. People are growing impatient with leaders of the day and seem to be on a perpetual search for individuals they can lay their hopes on. This is understandable, given the huge responsibilities of leadership and the cascading effects, if it fails or succeeds. But no matter how inspirational and dynamic any leadership is, it can only go as far as the cooperation of the led (the aggregated contributions of the individuals, who make up society). Civilisations depend on men and women finding new ways for humanity to live and work better. People like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, etc., defined the industrial age, just as individuals like Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg advanced the information age and the digital revolution.

Every developed nation we know or aspire to be like is driven by the ideas and innovations of its people. Rent seeking behaviour, on the other hand, is what has held most African countries from significant progress, with leadership and the people more focused on using material resources for personal economic gain without contributing anything substantial to society. A nation like Israel has been able to build a formidable nation from a barren land through individual contribution and innovation. It was Shimon Peres who said, “In Israel, a land lacking in natural resources, we learned to appreciate our greatest national advantage: our minds. Through creativity and innovation, we transformed barren deserts into flourishing fields and pioneered new frontiers in science and technology.”

The challenge for today’s leadership, across Africa, is to truly recognise the power of the people to make a difference and to create the enabling environment that will allow for the flourishing of individual potential – make it easy for personal ideas to become viable businesses, invest heavily in infrastructure and in the education of the people.

The challenge for individuals, on the other hand, is not to wait until leadership gets it right, but to begin to do what we can, with what we have, where we are, to improve our lot and that of those around us. It was Nelson Mandela who said, “There are so many men and women who hold no distinctive positions, but whose contribution towards the development of society has been enormous.”

Those who are given to adding value, contributing their quota to the development and emancipation of society, have the advantage of mastering the art and thus defining leadership for the people.

We need contribution minded people to turn things around for good. The new paradigm of citizen expertise – the collection of knowledge from all societal layers for the purpose of solving contemporary challenges – is proving extremely effective in many areas of life. A good example is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia that depends on the active contribution of supposed amateurs, which has created a larger, more up to date and accurate collection of knowledge than the Encyclopedia Britannica. We have to start looking at ourselves as vital enablers of the Nigeria and Africa we want to build. And when vital enablers find themselves in positions of public office, they will make a difference. So, teach with the whole of your heart, if that is your call. Be the best policeman you can be, if that is your duty. Commit to being the most dedicated and progressive legislator, if fate has so entrusted the position to you. No matter where you are and what you do, make the best of it, and you will be making the best of Nigeria in the process. When you do this, you’re modelling leadership, many will be influenced by you and you become a definition of the type of leadership we are looking for. We have to start considering as sacred, the contributions we make to the overall success of society. You are a necessary part of the narrative. You are important. You are needed. Nigeria is counting on you.

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leadershipTaiwo Odukoya


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