Leadership Is Not About You (And Not About Now)
Here I am 40,000 feet above sea level trying to piece together in readable form, a short video I shared last week on “Leadership is Not About You.” I’m en route back from an East Africa launch of my new co-authored book that took me to Nairobi (Kenya), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Kigali (Rwanda), with a brief transit in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). It’s been a while since I shot these PEP Talk videos because all roads have been leading to the launch of the movement and the said book, Africa to the Rest. The West Africa launch in Accra on March 31st had been so successful, buoying my team and me towards where the African sun rises for part two.
Leadership is not about you, it’s about those you serve; it’s not about now, it’s about tomorrow. This truism landed in my heart as I touched down in Nairobi to a very warm welcome, ‘Karibu Kenya’ (welcome to Kenya). In Ghana we say, ‘Akwaaba.’ Ghana and Kenya have a diplomatic arrangement which allows citizens to visit each other’s countries without a visa. How wonderful. And this time also, the immigration officer did not ask me, “Why are you here, what’s the purpose of your visit?” Come to think of it, why would he? Who asks anybody, “Why are you coming home?” I’m home, Kenya is home.
That really is how the whole continent should look like yet traveling across Africa can be a nightmare. I am looking forward to the day when we do not need visas to travel across the second largest continent on the planet. I earnestly envisage the time when we’ll not have to change several currencies to travel across Africa. I am looking forward to the time when with one passport, one can fluidly go to all the 50 plus countries on the motherland. And that, my friend, will take tremendous leadership. How come I did not need a visa to Kenya, that all the way from Ghana, six hours flight away, I could just enter Kenya unhindered by red tape? Because at some point, once upon the time, a certain leader (or group of leaders) thought that was something great we could do for the mutual benefit of our peoples, for every Ghanaian and Kenyan.
As the driver was taking me from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to Severine Cottages in Karen (a suburb of Nairobi) where I was scheduled to lodge, courtesy of the owner Mary Ngechu, a YAW PERBI coaching client, we were having a conversation amidst a bit of road congestion from time to time. There had been some redirection of traffic in Nairobi because Kenya had just lost their third president, Mwai Kibaki, and this was preparation day for the funeral in the morrow. The next day was a holiday for his state burial, and several continental dignitaries were expected to arrive via the JKI airport. This driver was full of praise for the late head of state. “He was a good man, he built this highway we’re on, started free primary education for every Kenyan child…” he did this, he did that…. he was a good man. Far from perfect, it seemed from the narrative that Kibaki understood that his leadership was not about him, but about those he can been given influence to serve; and that his leadership wasn’t just about then (2002-2013), but about tomorrow.
NOT ABOUT YOU
Leadership is not about us; it’s not about you. It’s all about those we serve and influence towards some shared, noble purpose. I find it very sad when we have leaders, especially on our continent, who wants to loot all the wealth they can get, grab all they can eat and can the rest for tomorrow for their children and grandchildren. But leadership is about the people, for the people.
The year 2063 is when the leadership of Africa is hoping to have one passport and this free, unhindered movement of people. It’s too far! By 2063, I will be 85 years old, if the Lord wills and if He tarries. Come on, things have to be sooner, much sooner. I am excited about the crucial interventions of YAW PERBI Executive Education, BCA Leadership, Africa Leadership Initiative, The HuD Group and all others working on the continent to catalyze authentic, effectual leadership because everything does rise and fall on leadership. Leadership is indeed cause, everything else is effect, and l felt that right that morning when arrived in Kenya.
I can confidently tell you that the dream of one Africa, one passport, no visas can happen. It took a certain Jean Monnet to get the European Union going in that direction (I remember that so vivildly from our Africa Leadership Initiative/Aspen Institute readings from over a decade ago). The ability to not only fly from the top of Tunisia to the tip of South Africa, or from the cusp of the Cape Verde peninsula to the extreme edge of Mauritius unfettered and unvisa-ed, but even drive across the length and breadth of the continent is a dream I share with many others on the continent and in the diaspora. Imagine no need to change several SIM cards, no need for consecutive currency exchanges and having eight different specimens of shillings in your breaking purse. This is the Africa we want; yea, even the Africa we need.
For sure, this will take visionary, effectual leadership. Remember, leadership is not about us, it is about those we lead and their aspirations, even that of those who would come tomorrow. Are you pepped up to lead and leave a lasting legacy? Leadership is not about you, it’s about those you serve and influence towards a shared, noble purpose. It’s not even about now; it’s about tomorrow. Let your leadership count years from now, thousands of years from now, even into eternity.