Leaders should inspire the people who follow them

Wednesday March 20 2019

South African freedom hero Nelson Mandela

South African freedom hero Nelson Mandela gestures as he is accompanied by his wife Winnie, moments after his release from Victor Verster prison in Western Cape in this February 11, 1990. PHOTO | REUTERS 

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Where do great leaders come from? Or, maybe the question should be, where do great leaders go?

If we don’t study history, we are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past. If we do not do an anatomy of leadership we may find ourselves saddled with office holders and not leaders.

The second question is because there are numerous instances of leaders who started right and while still occupying office, become the antithesis of what they used to be.

People like former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe come to mind. How could a person who was highly celebrated when he became prime minister in 1980 also be rejected by the masses in 2017 when he was removed from office?

To attempt to answer the first question, one would need to look at some great people. In studying them, you find that their leadership was driven by ideology and not just by the fact that they occupied an office.

In every establishment, there are those who hold titles and those who wield power and influence. It is not automatic that the title holder will be hold power. In fact, the power holder may not even have a title, but they wield so much influence that their support for any initiative is crucial.

Those who wait for titles will never become leaders. If you are not a leader, no title can do it for you. Leadership flows from the head of the leader to the heart of the followers, not from the title.

Many who don’t know this have jeopardised their leadership. If you think you are a leader and no one is following you, then you are just taking a walk.

Also, if people are following you because there are consequences for not doing so, then there is a problem.

The influence of a leader is seen in how well they impact hearts and minds.

Big picture

Great leaders can voice the thoughts of the people. They inspire a following because they see the bigger picture.

The success of Apple founder Steve Jobs was because he aligned his dream (small picture) with the big picture—what the world needed—and got his team to own the vision.

For the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, the small picture was his dream for his people and the big picture was the future of his country.

When he was released from jail in 1990, he called for forgiveness, love and peace. He ran for office and after one term bowed out gracefully, cementing himself among the greats.

On the other hand, Mugabe had the same background as Mandela, and he could easily have been named among the great African statesmen.

However, he lost the plot along the way. The great leader who once inspired a continent was gone, yet he still occupied the office in which he was once considered great. Where did the great leader go?

The day a leader loses the ability to connect the small picture of their own dream and vision for their lives with the big picture of the needs of the world that they serve, they lose their place.

So, as a leader it’s not about you. It’s about taking the organisation forward by a thorough crystallisation and alignment of your dream, the solution you are bringing to the world and the hearts of the people who will help you deliver it. Once the three are aligned, your leadership will continue.

However, if like Mugabe you get to a place where your dream is constant but the other two parameters are not aligned, then people will wonder where you went even if you are still in office.

No leader is leading for themselves. You are leading for something bigger than you.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer at Power Talks.