As I watched President Gaddafi speak to his people in response to the protests in Libya, I was struck with awe at his persona.
He is a man under siege from a large majority of Libyans and is threatened by his precarious situation. In all likelihood, he will be overthrown from power as a result of the wave of revolution that has swept Northern Africa. Yet when he stood up to speak, he spewed more insults than goodwill in the name of his green handbook i.e. the law. I couldn’t help but think that something was seriously amiss.
You would think that he would make an effort to learn from his neighbour in Egypt, but he behaved like a demi-god; believing that he was invincible in comparison to his compatriots.
Closer home, we have often witnessed the downfall of political big wigs who were so arrogant that they couldn’t be bothered with public goodwill. Some were so self-assured that they could state their positions with utter finality even citing death; much to their dismay when they were forced to resign days later.
Gaddafi’s speech and this type of behaviour, which is not unique to politics but also surfaces in the work place, got me thinking. What disease is it that afflicts those in leadership that they end up becoming tyrants? And how can we in our individual capacities and as public servants avoid making such costly mistakes?
First, it appears to me that these leaders have lost touch with the reality on the ground. If so, it either because they have surrounded themselves with the wrong advisors or that their security intelligence isn’t working effectively.
Whatever the case, I have learned over time that intelligence is a key component for success. If you cannot correctly point out the problem because you are surrounded by puppets who tell you what they think you want to hear, then you should not expect to derive a real solution. Get rid of the ‘Yes men’ and learn to keep your ears to the ground; asking the right questions so that you are able to discern the truth behind the eye-grabbing headlines.
Secondly, let us learn to separate our egos from leadership. Many times, leaders take the rejection of their leadership as an attack to their individual person. This is a big mistake.
I have always said that no one individual has a monopoly of knowledge and you in that leadership position should not delude yourself into thinking you know it all. When you have that as the basis for governing, you will be more comfortable with being challenged. You will be more open to the need to defend your ideas, and to accepting other ideas if they are more superior in their rationality and business sense.
Thirdly, learn to read the signs of the times and to change in tandem with them. The world has changed rapidly in the last decade. People across the globe have become empowered by increased access to all sorts of information.
Whether in the work place or in their own homes, they have full knowledge of their rights, and know exactly what to expect at any given time.
True leadership is about humility. It is about acknowledging that what has always worked may not work in the present day, and admitting that there may be others better suited to take the lead. It is about knowing when to call it a day. In any case, wouldn’t you rather step down gracefully than be hounded out like a dog in the night?
I hope that our leaders will learn from the global revolutions and learn to read the signs of change better than they have done in the past. Were it so, we would see less of the political bickering that we do now and more of transformative leadership to propel us further than Yoweri Museveni’s yardsticks.