Am I Really A Leader?

Am I Really A Leader?

By Jude Okolie

At about 3am last night, I received a call from a very good friend. It is not unusual for him to call at odd hours, however this particular one was surprising. Few days back, he had posted some pictures of his holiday trip on social media. I said to myself, why would he be calling me at midnight when he should be sleeping after a long holiday trip.

In his words…

  • “ I quit, I quit , I quit, I am going away, I am leaving everything behind ”
  • “ The job which I once loved has turned to sour ”
  • “ The  profession which I once cherished has transformed  into a nightmare ”
  • “ The work environment is toxic “
  • “ There is no chance for improvement “
  • ‘ My boss sucks “
  • “ The atmosphere does not support personal growth “
  • “ My boss doesn’t care if we exists, he only takes pride in his abilities “
  • “ I have been treated with disdain and utmost injustice “
  • “ I have endured enough “

Those words hurts, given that he was one of the best in his field and probably the most determined and hardworking personality I have ever known. Nevertheless, the issue of leadership ought be discussed openly. His major complaint was that the company lacks leadership and vision. There comes the question. Who is a leader? What qualifies you as a leader? Is leadership a trait, character or something that should be learned and improved on?

Most dictionaries define a leader as someone who guides or directs a group while leadership is defined as an act or instance of leading. Although this conventional definition stands true, in my own perception a leader is more than just directing a group of people and leadership is more than the act of leading. A leader should be seen as a charismatic, elegant, selfless and compassionate individual who prides success as the level of influence and impact he has on others without expecting anything in return.

Who is a leader ?

Whenever I think of leaders I think of important personalities like the late Nelson Mandela, Late Mahatma Gandhi, Bill and Melinda Gates, Pony Ma etc. These people are influencers, they have affected a lots of people positively, they have given people hope . I recently heard that Bill Gates lost his ranking as the world’s 2nd-richest man due to his generosity and numerous donations. Bill and Melinda were named the most generous philanthropist in the United states recently. For me Bill is still the richest man in world, he has influenced many  lives positively. His charitable donations and different trust funds to support poverty, global health and Education is motivating especially in Africa. I was a direct beneficiary of one of his generous donations. Not forgetting the selflessness of the late Nelson Mandela towards tackling apartheid and racism in South Africa.

Leaders should be distinguished from prominent individuals, you can be popular, rich, appear in the news every time and yet not possess the trait to be called a leader. It is time to ask yourself this question….

  • How many lives  have I touched with my wealth?
  • How can I influence my community with my knowledge?
  • How can I help someone with my skills?
  • How can I contribute positively towards the advancement of science and technology with my academic training?

We all have excuses for not being a  leader or not helping others out. Some would say I don’t have enough money to give out, to some it is time, to some it is lack of resources while to others it is religion or health issues. I once worked at an organization where we had to raise funds to support various charitable organizations by making phone calls. Let us compare this two scenarios I encountered (Note that the names used here are fictitious  and does not represent the real  individuals.

  1. Jumbo is a graduate who is unable to find a job in his field. After three years of job hunting he gave up and decided to work at a grocery store with a minimum wage salary. This is barely enough to pay his student loan ( he never got a scholarship) and take care of his sick mother. I called him and asked him to support organization Y (name withheld) by making a charitable donation of $ 100. He mentioned that he cannot afford $100 but he is willing to help support and influence Y. He said he could only afford $70 and he would be sending the cheque in a few days.
  2. Adaka a former classmate of Mr. Jumbo who studied on scholarship and does not have to pay any student loan. Has been working at a top firm since graduation. His annual basic salary is 10 times what Mr. Jumbo earns. He boasted to me how he bought a house recently with outright payment, changed his car, travelled to Hawaii with his family for vacation and how much he has saved for his retirement plan within 3 years. After an hour conversation with him, I could deduce that he takes pride in talking about his success. I have no issue with that, As a matter of fact  I never saw his as someone that is  garrulous. I asked him for $100 to support Organization Y that once awarded him a scholarship. His response still baffles me. In his words “ I don’t have any extra cash to give out for donations, I don’t waste money bye. “

Compare the two scenario/ individuals and tell me who is more influential. Sometimes we are quick to forget that it is imperative to give back to the same cause that helped us. Gratitude is something we should never take for granted. If I was offered a scholarship to attend college, someday I would be motivated to give back towards the same cause.

Qualities of a good leader

As mentioned earlier, a good leader should be able to inspire others. Inspiration could come from life style, things you do or say , places you go and how you react in the face of challenges. Compassion and selflessness  is also an attribute  that should be found in all leaders. You should not only care for people below you, but show interest in their life style and wellbeing.  I also observe leaders who are honest, accountable and cherish integrity as good leaders. You should be able to take responsibilities  for your actions and decisions, communicate and listen to complaints of your followers and supporters also strive to elevate those below you by constantly motivating them.

Leadership could exist in different environment, at home, at work, in school, in meetings or even in a party. Never fail to demonstrate those attributes anywhere and anytime.  Do not despise the start of little beginnings, start small and see how your influence grows.

 Is Africa the case of “ The blind leads the blind ” or “ The blind leads people with clear vision “

I write this section with too  many questions than answers. Africa is a continent blessed with abundant resources that is enough to posit them as a power continent. Yet the continent is nowhere near. Some countries are still wallowing in abject poverty, security issues are still rampant. Most importantly, political instability is still dominant as evidenced in the recently concluded Nigerian election.  Every problem points to bad leadership. Forbes list of five worst Africa leaders include: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea, José Eduardo dos Santos, President of Angola, Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, King Mswati III, King of Swaziland and Omar Al-Bashir, President of Sudan. Are some of these leaders responsible for the problems in their respective countries?

 When you look at these leaders and the state of political unrest, poverty and instability their country is at the moment, you start questioning their patriotism. Questions like is .. how on earth were they allowed to serve for such a long period of time, could it be the case of the  blind leads the blind and there is no one with clear vision to stop them. Could it be that the bright minds  are actually fleeing the country to save their lives or for better opportunities? As evidenced by the recent influx to Canada by Nigerians.

More questions than answers. In my own opinion I think emigration  is a big loss for Africa. Someone once said, if all the doctors in Nigeria keeps moving to Canada, there would be no doctors left in the country. If all the bright minds are leaving the country who are those left behind.  Everyone wants a better life, a good value for their money. When you home cannot provide you comfort, you are forced to seek for comfort elsewhere. That is the case of Africa at the moment. As a prophet is not well appreciated in his own home.

Even some African  leaders do not believe in their health system, education and research institute. I know of a president that spent more than two months outside his country receiving health care. Whose children studied outside his country. Why spend some much for education and health care in another country when you could easily fix the one at home?

Why would I help others grow and build their homes when my house is on  fire? Is it a case of wickedness, negligence, ignorance or lack of patriotism. I wish I could answer the question.

It is time to wake up, take initiatives and implement the change that we crave for, desire and deserve. Could it be that this is a pure case of “the blind leads the blind”. More needs to be done to posit Africa in their rightful place and give the continent the global recognition it deserves. New faces needs to take up challenges, now is the time or never. 

How can I be a good leader?

Take it or leave it, in our own personal domain we are all leaders. Now how can you be a good leader. There are tons of recommendation for good leadership online (including the qualities outlined above), but from my own experience two most important task a good leader should do are: (1) Reflection (2) Keep track.


Reflection is a practice that involves taking a step back, analyzing a situation or scenario , critically thinking about it , learning from the experiences, documenting what went wrong and how it could be averted. Preparing for future scenarios and opportunities based on the past experience as indicated from the reflection.

Every leader has to reflect on their decisions, look at the big picture of how it has affected people around them and prepare recommendations for future improvement. Reflection is a power tool that helps calm the mind, keep our conscience in place and averts future disaster. Reflection could be done by writing or even by soliloquizing, sometimes we could easily obtain valid points from writing. We could fall back to what we have written and make notes for future occurrences.

Every leader should reflect on their leadership experiences, sometimes a good communication with followers helps to identify loopholes in decision making. The most important aspect is learning from mistakes and wrong policies. Reflection also shows the intention to learn, selflessness and compassionate.

Keep Track

The day you stop learning, you start decaying. As a leader you should keep abreast with recent events, technological trends and societal changes. Keep track with your followers and what is happening around them. Attend meetings, conferences, public events and gatherings. Listen more than you speak. This shows that you care. Learning and improving yourself also shows how much you are willing to help others grow.

Be willing to move out of your comfort zone. I once had a teacher that has been using identical slides to teach a class for five years. Even though a lot of discovery has been added, nothing has changed in his presentation. He lost the trust and respect of his students because he was not willing to learn and improve. When you keep abreast with the world, you observe new leaders, learn new skills that foster good leadership.

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