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Reinvention: Leadership In The 21st Century


Blurred text with a focus on leadershipIN the last two weeks I have been writing a series on leadership in the 21st century. It is obvious we live in convoluted times, and to thrive we will need new depths of personal, organisational and national leadership to pull us through. The truth is, the world is reinventing itself at an incredible pace. In the face of this continuous reinvention are three categories of leaders: those unable to keep up with change, those who manage to do so, and those who in fact create change. As someone said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” This demands that today’s leader stays in a mode of perpetual self-improvement. Leaders who do not reinvent themselves will neither be able to keep up nor lead change in a time where the half-life of any skill is about five years.

In a recent research, Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown effectively argue that much of what you learned 10 years ago is obsolete, and half of what you learned five years ago is irrelevant. The ideas that worked in yesterday’s world are likely to falter in tomorrow’s. There is no other way to confront the multi-dimensional problems facing us today than to keep developing ourselves for the work ahead. The American bestselling author, James Michener, writing in an essay, gives a good anecdote on the importance of personal development in leadership: “I first discovered this fact on Guadalcanal in 1945, when the war had passed us by and we could see certain victory ahead. Relived of pressure, our top admirals and generals could have been excused if they loafed, but the ones I knew well in those days took free time and gave themselves orderly courses in new fields. One carrier admiral studied everything he could on tank warfare. The head of our outfit, William Lowndes Calhoun, spent six hours a day learning French.

I asked him about this. ‘Admiral, what’s this big deal with French?’
‘How do I know where I’ll be sent when the war is over?’ he countered. But what impressed me most was the next tier of officers, the young Army colonels and the Navy commanders. They divided sharply into two groups: those who spent their spare time improving themselves and those who didn’t. In the years that followed, I noticed in the newspapers that whenever President Truman or President Eisenhower chose men for military positions of great power, they always picked from the officers who had reeducated themselves.”

Apart from the appointment of a few technocrats, public office in Nigeria has largely been the preserve of political activists and party cronies. This is why, besides the few sparks of brilliance here and there, leadership in Nigeria has largely been mediocre. We cannot continue this way. To deliver the dream of present and future generations, leadership, in the 21st century, must reinvent itself. The days of occupying public office for the sake of it, or using money and political connections to gain recognition are over. We are in a time of performance.

Where every leader, at every level, will be judged based on their deliverability. The pace of development in most parts of the world has since left us behind. It will take leaders with a commitment to personal development and reinvention to make us competitive in the 21st century. And so we have to keep challenging the entire leadership and public service delivery structure, everywhere in Nigeria, to reach for new heights of diligence, to discover new ways of connecting, collaborating and getting work done faster, smarter and better.
Nigeria Has A Great Future
Pastor Taiwo can be reached at

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