The burden of untrained leaders
“E go better” is a common phrase used in Nigeria to affirm our inner aspiration of a better future.
Popular artistes turned it into songs. We say it when we want to reassure ourselves of a better tomorrow, hoping that the nation will live up to its potential one day.
The wise are beginning to realize that hope is not enough, a byproduct of faith. Faith is a risk, and we need to put it in the right leaders who can lead the nation into a prosperous future. We need leaders who are trained and prepared for a moment like this. We need to identify such people to escape the burden of untrained leaders that has beguiled Nigeria and Africa at large.
A little disclosure before I proceed: this article might read like leadership 101. Learning new things without mastering the fundamentals is like building a house on a sinking foundation. If the foundation is destroyed, what can the righteous do? A nation’s destiny and its people depend on its leadership; therefore, it is serious. And in critical moments like one where our nation has found itself today, we cannot afford to hand the steering of our wheels to an untrained leader.
The untrained leader is not equipped and prepared for the most urgent tasks. You most likely have read or heard about the David and Goliath story. Goliath was the greatest threat to the existence and prosperity of Israel at that time. Saul, the king, who led the Israel army to war, could not silence the threats and boasts of Goliath, which lasted several days. The Israelis carried the burden of a leader who was not trained for the urgent and most important task. David, a shepherd boy, emerged as the trained leader. He rose to the occasion and liberated his nation. If the burden of an untrained leader is that heavy, the ability to identify a trained leader in a country where the most incompetent masquerade as the most qualified is an absolute necessity.
Ambition or passion without knowledge leads to destruction. There is an abundance of people with ambition and passion for leading without understanding what leadership entails. Back to the David and Goliath story, the leadership Israel needed at that moment was to help them move past the greatest obstacle to their nation’s progress – Goliath. King Saul, the supposed leader with his vast army, could not move the nation past Goliath. Leadership is the ability to move people from where they are to where they want to be. King Saul had no formula to move his people past Goliath, but David, a shepherd boy, provided the much-needed leadership because he was trained and prepared for such an occasion. He was ready to face the greatest threat to his country at the cost of his life. Leadership goes beyond sitting in an exalted office, dishing instructions, and signing documents; it is problem-solving. A leader should be ready to face problems head-on with the understanding that no excuse for failure will be tolerated. David could not afford to fail. He had to lean on his greatest source of strength and get all the help he could receive.
A trained leader is not the same as an experienced politician or officeholder. Although he had no previous political experience when he was elected three years ago, Zelensky, a former comedian, has become a convincing war leader. He had learned leadership somewhere else. Looking at his history, he learned leadership in the most unlikely of places – the entertainment business. His rise to prominence is a case of imitating art. His most notable role was in the TV series Servant of the People. He played a school teacher who became the president after a student posted a video of him criticizing politicians. Who would have imagined that his role in that series and business would influence him? Leadership is a mindset and a skill set, not societal titles and awards. He rose for his people when they needed him most. Training and preparation often happen behind the scenes, so how do we identify trained leaders? Though there are many qualities of a leader, some qualities distinguish trained leaders from others.
Knowing that all victories and defeats start from the mind, trained leaders are confident, not brash, and instil confidence in others. The Israelites were sore afraid of Goliath, but David came and talked down on him, inspiring confidence in his fellow citizens. Before David attacked and defeated Goliath physically, he won the mind battle. He knew the power of words and used it to his advantage. Trained leaders are excellent communicators. They know how to use words to encourage, inspire and persuade people to act.
Can you take a trip to the past and mention any reputable and memorable leader who was not an excellent communicator? From Winston Churchill to Nelson Mandela and Obafemi Awolowo. Trained leaders know the weakness of their nation but project its strength. They are excellent communicators, and their words are not empty – they walk the talk.
Trained leaders get to work with their followers and get their hands dirty. They lead the march. They demand of themselves what they request from others. One of the qualities that endeared the current Ukrainian president to the heart of millions of people globally is his decision to stay back in the war-ravaged country to fight with his people. When leaders make demands of their people but do something contrary, such leaders only make a fool of themselves. It is in the nature of people to gauge how involved you are in something, but they get committed to you. Nation-building requires sacrifice from leaders and their followers, but the leaders must take the lead.
David had killed a lion and bear with his bare hands, so he was not making an empty brag when challenging Goliath. He had training in the art of fighting extremely dangerous creatures; Goliath will not be an exception. Trained leaders have a history of rising to the occasion where it matters. They have often solved problems similar to what lies ahead in the past. Though the new challenge might be at a bigger scale than what they did in the past, they have built confidence and experience to surmount the bigger challenge. Trained leaders have been faithful in little; hence much can be committed to their hands. Leadership requires making tough decisions and making tremendous sacrifices. Those who cannot stand the heat should not be admitted into the kitchen.
To reap the future fruits, the seeds of today must be sacrificed. A common pattern is found in all trained leaders- they learn through adversity and value the lives of those they lead higher than theirs. The experience and training are acquired at a substantial personal cost and sacrifice. David risked his life to protect his father’s sheep; Nelson Mandela risked his freedom to protect the rights of his people, and the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, rejected the offer to escape the Russian invasion with his family and decided to stay back. Next time somebody flaunts the leader tag, inquire if they have ever paid the price of leadership. It will be good to know if they can put other people’s interests above theirs. David trained men once described as “those in distress or in debt or discontented” to become mighty men. Trained leaders are also mentors; they contribute to raising excellent leaders like themselves. Someone who cannot sacrifice for individuals or a group of people cannot sacrifice for a nation.
The burden of untrained leaders is heavy. The crushing effect of their weight can last generations. It is high time we scrutinize those who offer to serve. We need to be sure they will solve pressing problems, not become a part of them. Leaders deserving of our faith and commitment must be able to inspire us to action with their words, ready to get their hands dirty, have a history of delivering when it matters, committed to mentoring future leaders, and be ready to make huge sacrifices for the good of all.
Osiri, a mentorship awareness ambassador can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org