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Leadership at the peak – Defining African leadership


By George W Nyabadza

LEADERSHIP as it is commonly understood today was birthed and brewed in the west and particularly in North America.



ns-serif”>American domination of world economics and academia has seen their brand of leadership become a globally accepted norm. In the past 15 years as the tigers of the East have roared onto the global economic stage there has been a recognition and acceptance of the fact that a different style of leadership exists. However, for me it still boils down to America’s personally endowed international “superiority”.


The leadership model that the West has given the world depicts three defining phases in American history: the original spirit that built their country manifested in individual optimism, positive thinking, and a “never give up” entrepreneurial drive; the military top-down leadership that enabled them to be victorious during World War II; and the mega economic success of their entrepreneurs and industry captains.


As a result the world of academia and popular business reading is full of case histories of the heroic, the self-motivated driven “pull yourself up by your bootlaces”, and charismatic and transformational leader at the apex of the corporate pyramid. I have no doubt, and the case studies prove it, that the Western leadership model is highly effective, and that students of it can get measurable improvements in performance if they apply it, within the context of its creation. Context is the key word. My argument for redefining leadership is centered on the impotence of the Western leadership model within the context of Africa. Unfortunately, all our business schools’ leadership curricula is structured around the Western model and as I have noticed, a significant number of Africa’s leadership and motivational speakers, present models that have been developed in the West for the West.


I have no problem with studying the best of the West, or of the East and contextualising it for Africa, but straight undiluted regurgitating of the same, will only sound good on the platform but will have no transformational effect on the people of this beautiful continent.


What is leadership all about? The West teaches us that leadership is about getting results through people, and one who can do so is a leader. I agree with this base definition, but it is predicated upon an assumption that when contextualised presents an interesting challenge to those seeking to lead others. This assumption is that every follower is driven by the need to achieve their individual goals and purposes and that all that one has to do is to rise up and by choosing to be action oriented, positive thinking, hard working and entrepreneurial they will inevitably achieve their purpose. All the leader has to do is unleash this realisation within his followers and the results will follow: increased motivation leading to increased results.


So where does this model fail, you may ask? Have you ever wondered why after decades of spewing out graduates and post graduates into Africa’s economic and political systems our lions still have not roared onto the global economic scene? The West’s leadership model is primarily received mentally and a mind free of any limitations will rise up to its inner call and deliver the results. However, a mind like Africa’s children possesses that has been brutalised and raped by colonialism, imperialism, religious offering of all kinds, a mind that has had pride in its heritage and tradition forcefully stripped away, is a mind that has severe constraints and limitations. A mind that despite the best of intents will not be able to react like a Western mind will to the leadership model they present.


Leadership in the African context is about realising these inherent limitations and taking three distinct steps to achieve desired results: first in creating economic and societal structures that create favourable physical opportunities for everyone, secondly in healing and freeing the broken minds and thirdly in motivating people to their best ability. This in my view is the true definition of effective leadership in the African context.

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