Leadership alert in the 21st century

By Nhamo Kwaramba

DURING these difficult times of economic upheavals, liquidity crunch and challenges confronting the majority of people left, right and centre, there is a need to have a crop of leaders who can take organisations forward.

Leaders who can show up and stand on the world map as bonafide businessmen and businesswomen of repute. Leaders that have the demeanour, shrewdness, prowess and business acumen to fully embrace new leadership concepts and to push business forward in terms of business policy formulation and implementation.

The experiences which some organisations have gone through put the issue of leadership in the spotlight. At the turn of the last decade, organisations in Zimbabwe indicated a failure in business leadership. Bad leadership seems to be endemic and institutionalised in some of these organisations. Moreso, a myriad of shortcomings were noted, chief among them being bad corporate governance, corruption, lack of professionalism and nepotism which all point to a lack of leadership.

In Zimbabwe and the world over, being a leader is no longer a position of status but the power to inspire and mobilise high-performance groups, to motivate people and to achieve organisational goals and objectives. High-performing and professional companies are grounded on effective leadership.

Leaders are not just there to give commands and instructions but to inspire and motivate staff to perform and surpass targets. It is common in Zimbabwe to identify some institutions by leaders that have been there since time immemorial yet there is little success to justify their long reign at the helm of power. Should they be remembered for good, there will be no problem, but the truth of the matter is that many of them are just place holders with nothing or little to show for what they have achieved for the organisation.

Year in and year out we hear and read stories of poor leadership for many organisations yet those responsible, like boards of directors, are not doing anything to remedy the situation. To confirm these assertions, one has to observe employees’ behaviour, conduct and attitude at places like the hospital, passport office, vehicle inspection department, roadblocks, banks, immigration offices and other offices. There are few exceptional cases where you get good service.

In the majority of cases, the attitude, behaviour and service does not inspire business confidence. Those of a nervous disposition will end up falling sick because of high blood pressure due to atrocious service delivery and poor leadership systems and processes.

A leader is the force that stands to take anything to its limits and the understanding to facilitate groups of people to adopt a common vision to create effective results. We have a few leaders who fit in this category. Many of them behave as if they are the organisation and the organisation is them. Their way of operation depicts a military style leadership which bases leadership on absolute authority and command.

These are the leaders who expect employees to jump at their instruction and do exactly what they say without any questions. If one is asked to jump, they have to ask how high? That kind of leadership style does not work in the business environment anymore. Leaders who still practice that kind of leadership must know that their days are numbered. Of course leadership is a position of authority and influence, but that needs to be enforced in a reasonable and professional manner within the dictates of effective leadership models. It is a matter of time before such organisations disappear in obscurity. The ones that continue to exist are normally a creation of government through various statutory instruments, therefore they exist and serve at the mercy of the government.

Leaders represent the organisations, but to succeed they need the contribution of everyone. If one thinks being a leader means knowing it all, why employ others?

The leaders, who think they are the alfa and omega of intelligence, technical ability and wisdom and regard others as useless tools that can be manipulated and lead without question, need mental decolonisation to disabuse them of selfishness, ignorance, arrogance and toxic mentality. Such leaders lack the basic tenets of leadership.

It has been observed that what lacks among the majority of business leaders in Zimbabwe is to harness the effort, energy and rally everyone to achieve a common goal. How can a leader harness the effort of other team members when they seem to be busy all the time? From Monday to Friday, some leaders will always tell fellow employees that they are busy. How can one lead when they are always busy? How can a person be an effective leader when he or she does not have time for other employees? Appearing busy is not a sign of effective leadership, rather it shows lack of it.
This alert is very important for business leaders. It helps to recognise that despite most of the teachings about leadership, being an effective leader is about who you are, what you believe, what is important to you and what you do. The other part is the environment around you, other leaders, employees, competitors, customers, investors and so on. The Zimbabwean situation could be a little bit different, but the fundamentals are still the same.

The country needs leaders who know the purpose of leadership. The purpose of leadership depends on the environment, the nature of the business, the pace of organisational change, specialisation in markets, new technology, looming crises and other factors. These, in turn, help to determine the business’ objectives. The few corporate organisations around must engender a successful, professional and winning mentality amongst the employees. That is purposeful leadership.

Followers can sense when a leader has self-confidence which is a trait consisting of self-esteem and self-assurance in his ability to make change happen and his ability to motivate followers to change. Adding to this thought, followers who experience effective leadership can recognise it. Followers feel calm, confident, have faith in the vision, willing to help, feel that the tasks are not difficult, when the leader acts with common sense, decency and intelligence. Exhibiting too much self-confidence or arrogance has the opposite impact.

Many leaders have dictatorial tendencies. They instil fear and earn results by commandeering. Leaders must create an environment that fosters collaboration and open discussion. Going it alone all the time without an input from other team members compromises the quality of the outcome. One or two ideas from others make the job perfect. The other good thing if this approach is taken is that followers will willingly head towards change because they have ownership in and understand the vision as well as trust the leader.

In other words, the leader is able to influence others to accept change based on perceived leadership traits such as intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability. If a leader has self-confidence, is comfortable listening to critical feedback from his followers, making the necessary changes, and can examine his leadership style he will probably receive a greater degree of cooperation in accepting change. A motivated follower will feel compelled to help.
Poor leadership does not just hold employees back from reaching their full potential, but actually sends them in the wrong direction and seriously impacts morale, employee retention and financial performance.

Leaders who are admired and respected have earned that admiration and respect. Respect is given to others only when they are deemed worthy of receiving the honour. For that simple reason, leaders who demand respect from others will never get it, because respect must be given. Leaders must not demand respect. It is not a right to be respected, but a privilege. The leader must possess strong beliefs, values and positive attitudes, otherwise the followers will stop relying on him and from that moment on, he will no longer be recognised as a leader, even if he is a leader by delegation of power. It is advisable that leaders learn to earn respect, not to demand respect.

Today’s leadership is totally different to the one practiced in the past, where power was sustained by fear imposed on the workers. This is one of the reasons why there are so many companies with poor leaders, where the notion still prevails that we can control people, just because they are afraid to lose their jobs in a world that is becoming more and more competitive. It is not by these means that a leader will obtain efficient collaboration from his followers to attain goals or renovate work processes that will sustain a company’s competitive position.

Power sustained by fear is a demonstration of impotence and not leadership. The true leader does not have to create fear in his subordinates to make them do their best. In today’s world we must consider that leaders and followers depend more and more on each other.

Leaders exist to orient the followers and to take out of them the best that each one can give. It is the sum of different ideas and it is the leader’s responsibility to use this information with honesty and wisdom. Leaders do not exist if they do not have followers and the success of any business depends on those who are able to motivate people in a work environment.

Kwaramba, is the principal executive consultant for Capacity Consultancy Group. He is a Leadership, Organisation Development, Strategic Planning, Human Resources and Labour Relations Expert. New Perspectives column is co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society (ZES) Email Kadenge.zes@gmail.com and cell +263 772 382 852.

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