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Leadership: When Obsession Is What Is Needed


taiwo odukoya 1Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart
(Colossians 2:23a)

LEADERSHIP is often defined by key achievements or failures. Abraham Lincoln’s two terms in office, spanning eight years, were characterised by the emancipation proclamation and the freedom of millions of black slaves. The policies of glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”) and the ensuing dissolution of the Soviet Union describe the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev’s six years in office, just as the courageous prosecution of Britain’s efforts in the Second World War defined the leadership of Winston Churchill.

What is interesting is that the accomplishments that define a leader’s tenure in office are often determined by an overriding desire, passion, or obsession to solve a particular problem. Bill Clinton presided over the longest period of economic expansion in US history. He inherited the largest budget deficit in American history at the time and nurtured it into the largest surplus ever. Clinton’s achievement in office was predated by a near obsession with the economy, a driving passion to improve the standard of living of the American people. This was captured in his now famous line, “…it’s the economy, stupid.”

A leader will achieve nothing significant except he or she is passionate to change a particular issue or solve a problem. Obsession, also defined as “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind,” is often a necessary ingredient for effective leadership. Obsession is passion in overdrive. Franklin Roosevelt, who inherited the Great Depression, was obsessed with pushing the New Deal through, a series of programmes he had dreamed up before assuming office for getting millions of Americans out of the doldrums of poverty. Upon clinching his party’s nomination for president, he declared, “This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms.” His entire presidency was defined by the boldness and success of the New Deal.

In Nigeria, what stands out when we think of the leadership of Obafemi Awolowo as premier of the then Western Region? The execution and impact of his free education programme. ‘Awo’ had a driving passion to educate his people, as a necessary foundation for long-term economic prosperity. We also cannot discuss the leadership of General Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) without remembering the slogan that defined his leadership: To Keep Nigeria One, is a Task that Must Be Done. He had a passionate obsession to preserve the unity of the nation. These leaders had something they passionately wanted to accomplish, and they believed in it enough to commit to it, to persevere in the face of adversity, and to create defining legacies.

Those that present themselves for leadership today must reflect on these things. Great leadership does not lend itself to vacuous ambitions devoid of passionate drive. From power, to security, to the economy, there are biting problems that will only give way in the face of a burning passion to resolve them.

Someone said, “When a leader is passionate, people feel a deep sense of being led in a worthy direction by someone who is committed to something more important than his or her own individual glory.” It is the responsibility of the electorate to interrogate the rhetoric and body language of the available candidates and discern those passionate enough to make a difference. The challenges confronting us demand more than a passing desire for power just for the sake of it. We need leaders that are obsessed with accomplishing significant strides for the common good.
Nigeria Has a Great Future

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leadershipTaiwo Odukoya
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