Opinion: Our leaders perish for lack of selfless advisers

by Omozuwa Gabriel Osamwonyi


The Arab Spring teaches many lessons. One is worthy of emphasis. Feelings of alienation balloon when the people’s development is outside a leader’s orbit of interest. Widespread latent hostility, which easily triggers violent revolution, is near inevitable when leaders luxuriate in enclaves of splendour, while their followers pine in misery in skid rows.

Leadership failure is one depressing phenomenon that remarkably defines this era. The public domain is always awash with news about the moral and ethical failures of leaders. High calibre leaders like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Silvio Berlusconi, Mohammed Morsi, Muammar Gaddafi, General Sani Abacha and many more are mostly remembered for their failures. Unfortunately, the consequences of their failures are grave. Sometimes, they are irreversible.  They leave scars on public conscience, breed widespread mistrust of authority figures and ignite the forces of anarchy, which push society to the verge of moral and cultural collapse.

Apart from football, I wonder if there is any subject that dominates our conversation like leadership failure. In fact, many Nigerians seem poised to write thesis on leadership failure.  There are many reasons for this. First, experientially, we know life is better with effective leadership and tough without it. Second, some leaders around us are not maximizing our collective potential for greatness. Third, our moral and ethical landscape is becoming very hazy as profligate leaders do not do the right thing the right way and for the right motives. In sum, service-oriented, effective and ethical leaders are in short supply everywhere.

As homes are increasingly becoming weaker due to lack of exemplary leadership, so are institutions of religion, society and state. This phenomenon is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is global. However, it can be reversed.  In fact, this piece is premised on the optimistic assumption that if we constantly and objectively examine why leaders fail, it will orient leadership towards optimal performance, ethical rectitude and enable many to sidestep pitfalls along the path to enduring greatness.

The beauty of leadership is seen when humane values inspire visions and pursuits. Not when power symbols, privileges and perks are flaunted.  Value-driven leaders have congruent behaviour, which is the bedrock of trustworthy relationships. Nelson Mandela exemplifies many sterling qualities of effective leadership. One of which is his historic mission to create an egalitarian society rooted in the core values of Ubuntu. This inspired hope in people. It facilitated the formation of broad alliances and promoted the spirit of cooperation. It is difficult for a leader to inspire rock-solid allegiances and build bridges across divides, if his value system, vision and pursuit are disharmonious. In other words, visions without values reduce leaders to rubble.

Credibility, which is the lifeblood of effective and ethical leadership, is safeguarded by open communication and accountability. If compromised, a leader’s quest for excellence in all things cannot be achieved. Discredited leaders can hardly elicit the needed cooperation to turn their vision to reality. This explains why wise leaders see credibility as their collateral, their greatest asset, never to be toyed with. Leaders often face the temptation to trade credibility for success and cheap popularity. Don’t give in. Ultimately, it is failure when you succeed by any means that endangers your credibility.

Leaders fail when infested by uncontrolled greed for wealth. Greedy leaders rank their material well-being above the common good, and their whims above the law. They hold power for self-enrichment.  Greed erodes the human capacity for empathy, making leadership insensitive to public needs.  Unfortunately, leadership ceases to be benevolent, progressive and people-empowering when emotional atrophy resulting from avarice disconnects it from followership.  In fact, dictatorship begins with lack of empathy. As central as noble and doable vision is to leadership, it does not guarantee success without empathy.  Empathy deficiency mutates the core essence of leadership.

The Arab Spring teaches many lessons. One is worthy of emphasis. Feelings of alienation balloon when the people’s development is outside a leader’s orbit of interest. Widespread latent hostility, which easily triggers violent revolution, is near inevitable when leaders luxuriate in enclaves of splendour, while their followers pine in misery in skid rows.

History is a fine teacher. The more we learn from it, the better we become.  King Farouk of Egypt plunged from the peak of power, prestige and prosperity to history’s grave of ignominy, because he became a victim of a certain psychosis caused by profligate high-living.  His famed hedonistic pursuits made him incapable of feeling public pulse. It made him docile even when intelligence report hinted to brewing revolt. In July 1952, when his Prime Minister called him one night to inform him of an impending coup d’état, on knowing the identity of the plotters, he deliriously retorted “A bunch of pimps” and went back to his gambling table.  Anything that distorts a leader’s perception of reality could bury him in the wreckage of misplaced priority, fractured reputation and failed projects.

Leaders fail when temperance ceases to be their governing principle. Without self-control, everything under a leader’s watch spins out of control. Self-control is the true measure of a leader’s power. Intemperance wrecks leadership. In a sense, intemperance could be spelt as lack of judgment and staying power.  Intemperate leaders almost always lack the nimbleness of mind to transcend mediocrity and broaden people’s vistas of experienced reality. It is not fitting for a leader to be impulse driven. Emotion-inspired decisions are almost always recipe for debacle. When upset, a leader must not make decisions or spring to action.

Leaders are principally knowledgeable trouble-shooters. But they are not encyclopaedias. Like all men, their knowledge and problem-solving skills are limited. So, they always seek expert advice on strategic and complex matters. The danger is if a leader is disinclined to truth or is surrounded by sycophants, his advisers will tell him what he wants to hear and not what he needs to hear.

Leaders should be wary of the counsel of untested aides. King Rehoboam inadvertently triggered the division of Israel, because he discarded the wise advice of aged men of honour and prudence and listened to the sweet-coated folly of his peers.   Many unprincipled hunters of fortune masquerade as experts. On a whim, they will delude leadership and destroy lives to advance their self-interest.

Some self-appointed special advisers have the ability to muffle the voice of truth and reason. Any leader who seeks to finish strong and well must put such advisers and those who validate his mistakes on a checklist. He must do likewise with those who put him on the pedestal of inimitable and infallible sage. A leader is doomed to fail, if everyone around him unthinkingly agrees with all that he says.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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