Illusion of power, grandeur often cloud leaders’ vision, work ethic

Friday September 16 2022
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An August 21, 2006 photo of Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus and Nobel Peace Prize winner with Barack Obama, US senator for Illinois at Tutu’s offices in Cape Town.. PHOTO | AFP


Election seasons make for difficult periods in Africa, leaving destroyed relationships in their wake. Friends turn into enemies and family members fall apart.

This is a season of transition. It is a season when some will learn first-hand how transient power is and how fickle people are; people they once saw as friends and will discover that people who would step out of meetings to pick their calls no longer do. That people were never loyal to them but to the offices they held. It is not going to be an easy period for a lot of people.

Those who are going in should remember that those who are going out once came in too. It is never permanent.

Never forget that power is transient and people are fickle. There are people who have been waiting for you to leave office so they can show you exactly how they feel about you.

I remember a friend who was the marketing director for a big company in West Africa. Everyone wanted a piece of her and she had a personal assistant to take care of the never-ending calls. She was always in the media; a bona fide corporate celebrity. The day she lost her job, it was over. No one cared about her anymore and she sunk into depression.

This is about to happen to the many people about to find themselves outside power. My advice to them is to get over it and off their high horse to determine to build themselves into brands that need no office to be influential.


The power many people wield is directly connected to the offices they hold.

Success/Failure roadmap

Yet, history is packed with stories of people who held no political or corporate leadership office but who are respected global icons and brands. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama who continues to accumulate awards after leaving office.

As books roll out on how to succeed, there is also a roadmap on how to fail. I have tips to help those succeeding incumbents and prepare them for the day they will find themselves on the way out.

First, every entity rises and falls on the capacity and choices of its leaders. If you chose to throw your weight around now that you are in, remember you too, will one day be outgoing.

Second, strong leadership in public always starts with leadership of self. If you can’t lead yourself to do the right thing when no one is watching, you will find it difficult to do the right thing with an audience. Human behaviour always reverts to default settings under pressure.

Third, remember organisations do not fail. Nations do not fail. It is always leadership that fails. Leadership failure never happens overnight. It is the result of ignoring facts and distorting truth. Failure is never an event but a process accelerated when the leader is out of touch with the realities of their environment.

Strong leadership must be able to temper emotion with reason. They must weigh their emotions and feelings against a greater good and bigger picture, then make with grace, decisions that might go against everything their emotions would have wanted to do.

As a leader you must be fully aware your gifts and affiliations can open doors for you and get you to the top but at the end of the day your legacy will be defined not by your gift but by your character. Yes, character sustains gifts. Character to sustain success is developed through the process of becoming successful.

The process, which includes oscillating periods of highs and lows, is what builds character. Those who compromise themselves out of the lows will never handle the grace and dignity that should come with the highs. Once people in leadership esteem position over values, failure is the imminent result.

Finally, remember that every entity rises and falls on its leadership.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks. E-mail: [email protected]