I believe selecting this topic at the crossroad of 50 years is very significant because this organization was set up to churn out leaders into society to make impact. The question is, ‘how well are we doing this? Are we raising leaders or just birthing conformers?’
It is no longer news that the greatest need in Nigeria today is good leadership. It has been established that we, as a nation, are a product of bad leadership over the years. It therefore means that we have a unique opportunity to reshape our nation by raising and releasing great leaders.
Indeed, we live in an environment where positional leadership has been glorified and bastardized. A relative gets a political appointment and there is great jubilation in the whole clan. What exactly is the foundation of this jubilation – is it based on recognition that one of them has been called to serve a people or is it an expression of greedy delight stemming from a mindset of self-service? I’ll leave you to determine which one it is.
I have come to a conclusion that no one can effectively lead other people if they cannot lead themselves. In his bestselling book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says that you cannot enjoy public victory without attaining private victory. In other words, before you can win on the outside, you must win on the inside. This is also true when it comes to leadership. You cannot effectively lead people to a point of making impact if you do not know how to lead yourself.
The story is told of a king who was taking a walk on the wall of his city one evening. As his custom was, he would stop by each person he met and exchange a word of greeting with them. This faithful day, he happened to notice a gentleman looking over the wall of the city who seemed very unfamiliar. He introduced himself as the king of the city and to his utter amazement; the gentleman also introduced himself as a king. This defied all royal protocol. How could there be a king in his domain and he knew nothing about it? “What land do you reign over?” He asked the man. “Well, I am a king of myself” the gentleman replied.
I am sure the king was quite relieved and probably slightly annoyed by this answer but we need to learn a lesson from this short story. We must realize early in life that to lead others effectively, we must know how to lead ourselves.
Positional leadership, as defined by John C. Maxwell, is the lowest level or the beginning of public leadership. As low as it might seem, what should qualify a person for positional leadership is personal leadership. It is very apparent especially in our dear country Nigeria that we can no longer afford to offer positional leadership to people based on promises they want to deliver to us. A pertinent prerequisite therefore should be that the one who qualifies to hold a position is the one who has proven (with visible results) that they can lead themselves. ‘You shall know them by their fruits’ is a popular scripture drawn from the Bible that holds true. Do you want to know a great leader of people? Look at the way he has led him/herself up until now. This would be one of your greatest indicators.
As other speakers discuss each section of this well chosen topic, ‘Lead me, Lead us, Make Impact’ I enjoin you to glean all you can from the truths they will be sharing. Indeed, leadership development should be handled from two ends, the point of character and the point of competence. Personal leadership leans strongly on the character end while positional leadership begins to lean a lot on the end of competence.
I recently heard a story of one of the organizations that has become a point of reference in Nigeria today when it comes to leadership failure. Many years ago, a group of people had positional leadership in one of the largest government parastatals in Nigeria, NITEL. From my sources, I heard that they utilized their positions to award themselves contracts and perpetrate all types of abuse of leadership. Anyway, as we know, NITEL go unbundled and a couple of them got together and formed one of the first CDMA telecoms companies in Nigeria. Unknown to them, habits follow you everywhere you go and within a short while, they began to award contracts to themselves and even pushed it to the extent that a few supplied substandard materials for the operation of their business. This was a classic case of robbing oneself. Today, that organization no longer exists except in the annals of history.
The Nigeria we have today is riddled with so many challenges that there has never been a better time to make impact easily. It will be your choice to get into society and make a positive difference or remain a statistic. Remember this, at the end of life, you will either be remembered for the problems you helped to create, the problems you helped to solve or you might not even be remembered at all.
Choose to make a difference. The future of this great country lies in the hands of leaders. These leaders I believe, I am speaking to today. This is what AIESEC stands for… impact. Nothing more, Nothing less.
*An excerpt of my speech at AIESEC.
July 8, 2011