Thursday, 14 August 2014

ON FLAWED LEADERSHIP AND STUNTED GROWTH

Image of Employees playing a game of Chess.
Employees playing a game of Chess.
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Have you ever worked for someone who you knew was totally less intelligent than you and whose vision is so myopic that it cannot really be called a vision? Have you had to deal with leaders who stifle your capabilities and reach just because they cannot see beyond the rim of their glasses? Is it frustrating when you cannot move as fast as the world is moving because your boss is stuck in the past? If your answer is yes to all this, then the club of frustrated employees welcomes you with open arms.

More companies are springing up with little or no respect for basic work ethics. Anyone who has some extra money thinks that they need to expand their sphere of influence by owning businesses. This is good because, in an economy where most young people are without jobs, it reduces the spate of unemployment and even facilitates growth and development.

While this may be good when these companies have clearly defined visions and structures, it is a hell of problem when they don’t. Employees of such organizations see such companies as a means to end; the end being the take-home pay. As a result of this, many of these employees are without focus and sometimes, without direction. They go through the motions every day and go home either unfulfilled or indifferent.

These employees are not to blame; the leaders of their organizations are.

A leader is supposed to be innovative; a person who thinks outside the box. In fact, a leader should believe that there is no box and he should be able to translate that same belief to the people who follow him and who work for/with him. Steve Jobs might have been the one known on the Apple Incorporated platform, but all the great ideas didn't come from only him. His leadership style made the Apple Company far bigger than most of its other competitors. When employees can see that their leader is very innovative and open to creative thinking, they will either follow suit or be booted out! This has ensured that the Apple brand is a brand that is built to last and to remain on top of its game. That company isn't so much about the intelligence of the employees, but more to do with the strength of the leadership body.

Image of Business man working.
Business man working.
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The story was told of a man who had traveled from his home county for about twenty years. When he returned home, he decided to take a drive round town to see what had changed. While driving, he came across a derelict building that housed his county's only restaurant. Out of nostalgia, he drove into the parking lot and decided to go in. As he stepped in, it seemed like he has gone into a time capsule. The restaurant was exactly the same; from the black and white checkered table tops and floors, to the faded yellow and green curtains, the heavy jowls of the proprietor behind the counter and the slightly off smell of baked goods and food. It was said that he sat down to eat and was served by the same maid, only difference being that she was older and heavier around her mid region. He could have sworn that the meal tasted exactly the same and it was while he was eating that the idea came to him. As he left the restaurant, he called up business associates and outlined how his home county was a good place for investment. After one year, he had built the most state-of-the-art restaurant anyone had ever seen. He employed big shot chefs, made massive campaigns and generally set the town abuzz with news of the new restaurant. The restaurant was divided into three: a section for pastries, chocolates, ice creams, shakes and cakes; another for local dishes from within the country; a third section with delicacies from countries abroad. His management team decided to create job opportunities for the people of the county. Soon, the restaurant began to employ mechanics, welders, masons, and other charlatans to come cook meals. The chefs eventually got tired of trying to teach them what needed to be done and so, they left: one after the other. Soon, the restaurant was run by people who had no idea how to cook, bake or do anything related to food. The facility gradual began to go to waste. The meals got messier and messier and even the food art that was characteristic of the restaurant began to dwindle. The owner came again into town after some years and when he went to inspect his facility, he was in utter shock! The restaurant looked anything but impressive. The foreign dish section was an exact replica of the local dish section; serving the same local dishes. What was worse was that the menu was exactly the same with the first restaurant of the town and since the first restaurant was better at doing their thing, patronage of his restaurant had dwindled. In six years, his dream had been reduced to rubble. None of his business ventures had failed except this one. He was reported to have called a meeting of his management team and when he brought up the issues he had with them, the management had the effrontery to say, 'The people do not understand the new dishes. And since they were already used to what the town was offering, we decided to just give them what they were used to'. The owner was reported to have smiled and in summary, dismissed his entire management team. He knew that when things didn't work, the leader was more to blame than the employees.

Leadership is more than position. It has to do with seeing the potential in opportunities, maximizing the possibilities of imagination, influencing people to follow you and your idea and consistently ensuring that you are at least one step ahead of your competition and more than ten steps ahead of your customer. The world is so fast-paced that, if leaders do not keep up and keep moving, they will either be phased out or become irrelevant. When leaders refuse to keep up with the times, they make it difficult for inventive and intelligent workers to explore their potential and capabilities. Thus, you have frustrated workers and a company that is at a stalemate; neither growing nor expanding.

Light bulb.
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Someone said, 'It is better a foolish leader keeps quiet than open his mouth and remove every doubt'. Many leaders have no inclination that this statement cuts across all forms of leadership. It is not unheard of that leaders open their mouths and threaten their employees and/or followers in ways that shows how weak they are. There are bosses who have used withdrawing cash payments to try to coerce workers into doing their bidding, forgetting that in doing so, they make the workers resent their job and eventually, them. It is also not unheard of that some leaders are known to cause division among staff by tattling tales. All of these are detrimental to the character of the leader.

And the absolute worst among flawed leaders are those who show religious or tribal bigotry. There is nothing wrong with holding firmly to your beliefs and values but it becomes wrong when you are intolerant of other people’s beliefs and treat them with bias based on where they fall on your ‘we-share-the-same-belief’ chart. Many people have come in contact with leaders who refuse to promote talent just because that talent is not the same tribe or religion with them.

How can the flawed leadership – especially displayed in Africa – syndrome be curbed?

Quite simple! Leaders should realize that people follow them for the strength of their character, their ability to be innovative and creative, how best they tackle challenges, their impartiality in carrying out their duties and generally, how they inspire their followers to reach beyond their capabilities. All these put together is what makes a good leader. And until this becomes the norm, companies, corporations, countries etc will not be ripe ground for development.

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