3 February 2013

Rwanda: 21st Century Leadership


AS I write this, we are celebrating Heroes Day and everyone is reflecting on both the incredible journey this country has been through, the struggles, the losses, the incredible pain of war and genocide but also the great victories and the everyday heroism of ordinary citizens.

Our heroes, known and unknown, some fallen, others living, teach us lessons on leadership. Leadership starts with being personally called to action. It is true heroism is the foundation for dignity. I also think, to be a good leader, you have to be heroic. You have to be willing to pay the price for what you believe in.

Leadership is a very interesting topic. There are hundreds of thousands of books on the topic. There are experts who will give you a thousand theories on good leadership. But in essence, to lead, you have to have followers.

To have followers, you have to have a clear vision. One of the things I admire most about President Kagame is his ability to both share his vision for Rwanda and always bring things back to that vision. This is the starting point to leadership: vision. That vision has to be forward looking and so does the leader. Strategy and hard work are critical but without vision, you are walking with no end destination.

Think about all those young men and women who fought and died for the Rwanda we call home. They had the same vision of going home. They also fought for a unified Rwanda where all Rwandans had opportunity to live free and prosper. Why? Their leaders believed this, shared this and walked boot to boot with them until the victory was complete.

Before I continue, let me make the distinction between leadership and management. Management is about supervising people and goods. It is about production and meeting deadlines. There is actually nothing wrong with that. Recent publications on leadership make it seem like managers are the devil. They, in fact, are not. However, leadership is more than just management. The difference is that leaders show you the island of happiness and then tell you how you will all get to that island together. In other words, true leadership is also about people.

Don't misunderstand me though. In the 21st century, leaders can no longer shun management. Production is important, but beyond the day to day, good leaders think ten years down the line. They constantly keep in mind, despite the challenges, what they want their establishment or business to be like and make the tough choices. Choices, sometimes, no one understands!

Back on the notion of people centred leadership, it is important to always keep in mind that amongst your other responsibilities, growing people is a central one. If you don't consider how well your team has evolved, then you are lacking a key part of the operation.

Gone are the days of climbing on people to reach monthly quotas. It's simple, people have choices. Even in a bad economic environment, people will walk away from bad leaders. Also, studies have proven that people who align with your vision and know you care for them will go out of their way to make things happen.

Think about your favourite manager for a moment, what do you remember about them? Mostly likely, it is the fact that they gave you new opportunities, or they rewarded initiative, or they were transparent, or they had your back, or they worked as hard as you. All those things come back to the notion that the manager was a leader. They created loyalty and loyalty goes a very long way.

Let me put it this way.I If you have some sort of leadership position, functional or official, remember that the people you lead are just as important as the end goal. Simply because without them, you will not get to the destination no matter how able you are.

Grow people! Challenge them to go further than they think they can. Listen to them; they will tell you their needs. Include them in your decision making. Be transparent about why you have decided what you have decided to the limit possible. Make feedback constructive and learn to delegate.

Who has the time you think? Well, you do! If you don't, learn to manage your time better. And just think of it this way; if the roles were reversed, wouldn't you want someone who was thinking about your development just as much as production?

Last thought, you are not a leader because you have a title. We are all leaders in some way or form. Leadership is about everyday behaviour. It's about knowing where you are going, communicating this and having people sign on to follow you. So question is, are you a good leader?

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