The question of true African leadership

Friday April 29 2022
A leader is someone who sets the pace

A leader is someone who sets the pace; someone you can follow to a place that you do not know. PHOTO | FILE


A leader is a person who can paint a picture that will cause people to leave their present to pursue a future

As Kenya prepares for elections, the conversation on leadership has become loud.

For over five decades, whenever I ask people about our problem as Africa, they say it is leadership. What or who is a leader?

There is a difference between a leader and an office holder. Many people who scramble and lobby for high office are doing so because they have an illusion that when they get to the top they will become leaders.

A leader is someone who sets the pace; someone you can follow to a place that you do not know. A leader is a person who can paint a picture that will cause people to leave their present to pursue a future. A leader expresses in words the thoughts of others.

True leadership must be transformative. Leaders must move the organisation or entity from the egg to the butterfly.


In Africa, we see a lot of political office holders with no retirement plans. This is because they have no vision of a future after they are out of office. Transformation starts on a personal level. If they are unable to lead themselves from one form of their lives to another, how then can they lead a nation effectively?

If their vision of tomorrow is not stronger than their comfort of today, they will remain prisoners of now.

Africans have a kingdom-mentality where there is a strong king and weak followers. We believe in leaders leading followers, but true leadership is when leaders lead leaders.


I call this the 3L leadership model — Leaders Leading Leaders. Everyone is built to become a leader. No individual was made to be weak. In a battle between a lion and a shark, terrain determines the outcome.

True leaders help team members discover their terrain of strength and move them from unconscious incompetence through conscious incompetence to conscious competence.

The folly of many local African organisations is that they are built around a strong vision bearer and weak followers. The strength of a vision is determined by the quality of its subscribers. Getting people more intelligent than you to follow your vision is a trait of a leader. There is no joy in being the brightest among fools or the most learned among the ignorant.

Leadership builds strong personal brands, and true leaders are people of faith. They are not scared to be different. They do not shy away from trouble but stand for what they believe even if it is not popular. Like the eagle, they do not back off from the storm. They can rise and fly above the clouds. They are not defined by their office.

Nelson Mandela’s definition of leadership did not come from the fact that he was president of South Africa. His personal brand was bigger than the office, and his stature out of office was bigger than that in office. True leaders do not need the office to be defined. They define the office.

True leadership does not rule by intimidation or coercion, but by inspiration. Leaders point you to your greatness and potential, not always reminding you of their own strengths or position. True leadership opens your eyes to the fact that though you may be jobless right now, there is an employer inside you. Though you may be sharing accommodation right now, there is a landlord inside you. True leaders remind you that though you may be a prisoner at the moment, there is a president inside you.

Are you looking for the next great African leader? Look in the mirror. That leader will be staring back at you.

Wale Akinyemi is the convenor of the Street University ( and chief transformation officer, PowerTalks. [email protected]