5 qualities of game-changing leaders

Truth be told, there are many shades of leaders in circulation, with the majority of their number coming from the quarters of those who merely occupy positions of authority and those who circumstantially wield enormous influence. But there is a small category of leaders who are characteristically game-changers; they are markedly different – and few. They orchestrate change. They question convention. They’re capacity and consensus builders. They expand the boundaries of human possibilities. They command fanatical followership. In one word, they exercise effective leadership. Names like American Abraham Lincoln, English Winston Churchill, French Napoleon Bonaparte, Grecian Alexander the Great, South African Nelson Mandela, and Tanzanian Julius Nyerere belong here. These names, to say the least, have become synonymous with game-changing leadership; quintessence and paragons of it per se.

For Aristotle, characteristic excellence is what makes a thing what it is. And so, distilled from the lives of the hitherto identified game-changing leaders, the virtues that add up to game-changing leadership include: vision, knowledge, courage, integrity, and communication. There surely is more to game-changing leadership than these, but those five stands tall.

VISION

Scriptures say it best, “Where there is no vision the people perish” (cf. Prov. 29:18). It can never be overemphasized that vision is critical to the leadership enterprise; the leader not only has to necessarily see tomorrow, but also see what tomorrow will bring to the table. Importantly, it has to be substantially clear to the leader where the ‘leader-ship’ is headed. Of course, no one expects them to be Merlin, no one expects them to pierce through the heavens to go read the palms of God, but everyone expects them to, at least, be in the know of the next few courses of action, and to be able to bet on the expected outcomes. The game-changing leader must be a wizard of some sort.

Lincoln’s example fits in here. Lincoln kept at the American Civil War and didn’t give up at any one point because the outcome was very clear to him; the American Union was so clear to him that the heads of more than 600,000 that rolled from both sides of the divide (Union and Confederate) were ‘worth’ it. And, in recognition of this quintessential visionary, the American people vote Lincoln the all-time best American citizen and leader.

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KNOWLEDGE

Hosea 4:6 always comes in handy in every discourse on knowledge, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” The place of knowledge on the scheme of things is central for two reasons: humans are born with no knowledge of the world, and humans cannot function without knowledge of the world. Moreover, the demand of knowledge on the leader is enormous. The leader, though not all-knowing, must know enough. They must be generally knowledgeable, as to know something about everything; they must be especially knowledgeable, so as to know everything about leadership. To know enough to in order beat the demand of knowledge on leadership, the leader must both be well and widely read. The leader must always be in the robe of learning and ensure that no experience (theirs or others’) that holds a relevant lesson is allowed to breeze by. Game-changing leaders must be humble enough to learn from their followers and ‘inferiors.’

An ad rem example for the place of knowledge on the scheme of leadership things is erstwhile British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. In the heat of World War II, and devastated by the untold terror Hitler was already unleashing on London, Churchill knew that only knowledge could come to his rescue; Hitler had already beaten him to toughness. What he did will shock you: he went all out to pull down Enigma, Hitler’s ‘all-mighty’ crypto coder. And how he did it is genius: he assembled a team of brilliant Britons to crack the code. The team came up with Ultra, one that made history of Enigma and WWII. With Ultra, Churchill knew every Hitler’s move ahead of time–and foiled them.

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COURAGE

As a word, courage is only the containment of fear and never the absence of it. To be frank, fearlessness is an impossible height to attain; we all fear one thing or the other, at least once upon a time. Come to think of it, why would God request that we fear not as many as 360 times in the Bible if not that he knows of what we’re made; he remembers that we’re all fears. But the truth remains that fear gets in the way of great accomplishments. It particularly stifles creativity. Importantly, we owe our pathological resistance to change to the fear-factor; fear fastens us to our comfort zone and furnishes us with a thousand and one reasons not to set out on any improbable journey. One can already see that game-changing leaders can’t afford to have fear dominate them, since it promises to sink their ‘leader-ship.’ Else, how will they make change happen, how will they blaze new trails, how will they create things, how will they have their people do great work? How? Courage becomes the only option available to the leader. Courage comes in handy to swallow fear, to move one to ‘act’ in spite of fear. Truth be told, without courage there is no true leadership, as the cowardly leadership is nothing but yet another follower of fear.

French Napoleon Bonaparte and Grecian Alexander the Great stand out as ridiculously courageous leaders. Napoleon used courage to birth a new French republic after the revolution, and Alexander used it to conquer the known world of his time.

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INTEGRITY

At every point, there are two types of leaders: those merely being followed and those worth following. Mind you, every ‘followership’ is a choice. Yes, every follower gets to make the choice of being led. And this choice can be informed by convenience or duty; by convenience when ‘just following’ isn’t that bad, and by duty when one just can’t resist the attraction towards an exceptional leader. To hit the nail on the head, integrity is the singular factor that makes for exceptional leadership, the type wielded by game-changers. Integrity demands that leaders walk their talk, that they lead by example, that they themselves be committed to the common course by folding their sleeves and joining to soil their hands with the ‘dirty job.’ Leaders who say what they mean and mean what they say, and go on to keep their word are those worth following. Also integral to integrity is toeing the path of right, especially when it is the hardest thing to do. The leader who’s got character is worth following every other time.

Tanzanian Julius Nyerere stands out here. His exemplary leadership was legendary, so much that, being Catholic, a cause for his canonization is on. Indeed, he walked every bit of his talk.

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COMMUNICATION

Idle talk is cheap. Anyone can afford to say anything and walk away with it. Freedom of speech we call it. Not so for the leader. The leader must be master-communicator. Game-changing leaders harness the power of words and the magic of well-crafted expressions to ‘stir men’s blood.’ Somehow, the great speeches we celebrate have come down to use from the game-changing leaders we know. Think of the Gettysburg Address, in which the legendary definition of democracy was rendered, we recall the great Abraham Lincoln. Think of We Shall Fight on Beaches, a speech that reshaped World War II for the English people, we remember Winston Churchill. Think of the Infamy Speech, a seven-minute-long speech that moved the US Congress to declare full scale war on the Empire of Japan within an hour, we call to mind Franklin Roosevelt. How did Adolf Hitler push the Germans to declare war on the whole world? He simply spoke. How did Nelson Mandela contain the Apartheid situation after his release from prison? He simply spoke. To wrap it all up, game-changing leaders get tons done by speaking, speaking simply but uncommonly.

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Dear finalist, “The Finals are never final”

Runners

Test us with tests but the finals are never final, because they fail to prepare us for the real test, which is survival.

~ Suli Breaks

Tonight, I’ll be privileged to be speaking to the Final Year Forum of St. Peter’s Chaplaincy, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It promises to be an interesting outing. I’ll be sharing with them 10 tips to finishing strong, given that the finals are never final.

I wish to spread the pie by making my presentation downloadable here to the rest of the world. And I believe you’re going to find it interesting; feel free to share with family and friends to whom the message may concern.

Again, click here to download.

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Meeting with the incredible Anty Dayo: The day I started all over again

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It is neither for eloquence nor erudition that history treasures Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream, Winston Churchill We Shall Fight on Beaches, Benjamin Franklin’s A Day in Infamy, and other great speeches it has engraved on the marble of time. It was exactly because Lincoln spoke to the hearts – not to the heads – of those gathered at Gettysburg for the burial of the fallen heroes of the Civil War that every American child is now made to memorize that speech’s opening. It was because the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. spoke from the depths of his heart to the bottom of the over 200,000 hearts assembled at Washington DC’s Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, that his I Have a Dream still echoes ‘from here to the moon and back.’ It was equally because Prime Minister Winston Churchill aimed at the heart of the British people that his We Shall Fight on Beaches became a game-changer for their World War II experience. How was it that a merely seven-minute-long speech was able to move a Joint Session of US Congress to declare full scale war on the Empire of Japan within the hour? It was because President Benjamin Franklin took over them with his Infamy Speech. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was even shorter, having lasted just 2 minutes and with a word-count of 272. The point is: great speeches minister to the heart.

To start with, why does next to everyone who knows her call her Anty Dayo? Mrs. Dayo Benjamins-Laniyi is called Anty Dayo because she so knows her way in and around next to everyone’s heart that one only gets to resist calling her mother – since doing so may be too much of a gesture. Though I met her just ones, it already feels like I’ve known her all my life; though I listened to her a couple of minutes, it feels like I’ve been her student like forever already. Anty Dayo stands out from the herd as simple, real, true, and authentic; she speaks with passion and affection; she connects with humility and empathy. Her diction is clear and her words as challenging as reassuring. And I just sat there. Listening. Enthralled. Staring. Wondering. Imagining. And questioning, “Where do I go from here?”

The date was October 15, 2016, exactly 48 hours away from Anty Dayo’s 51st birthday. The venue was Bolingo Hotel and Towers, Central Business District, Abuja. The event was the 3rd Motivators International Youth Organization Annual Conference. And I was there. Live! Looking back at that day, and everything that went with it, I can’t help but wonder if there would have been a better place on this planet to have been on that day. No doubt, too, the sacrifice of time and money was well worth it, having to have journeyed all the way from Enugu to be in attendance.

Of course, I’d always known that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. I’d always read that humans are capable of attaining legendary heights and achieving incredible feats. I’d always been told that ‘impossible’ is only a word, that ‘yes we can.’ Though I’d known stuff, yet I was still fearful and fantastically undecided. Though I’d read stuff, yet I was still playing small. Though I’d been told stuff, yet I really didn’t believe stuff. Definitely, just being in the know of things has never been enough, merely reading good books amounts to little, and simply listening to revered and game-changing speakers can’t do much. But Anty Dayo beat all of my doubts to it. I left Bolingo’s Planet Hall convinced that that day had become the first day of the rest of my life, and that the word beautiful is actually a shortening of be you to the full, the realization of which has set me on the pursuit of authenticity – like never before.

Who is Dayo Benjamins-Laniyi? While you try finding out for yourself, I shall do a piece on her. Soon. However, let me leave you a clue: Doxa Digital Nig. Ltd. That’d help.

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THE SERVANT-LEADERSHIP MODEL

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The Holy Bible comes down to us as a perfect book. Personally, I would have been surprised if the very Word of the Perfect God is found wanting on the scale of perfection. And, needless to say that the perfection of the Bible, aside drawing from the perfection of its Author, leans against the backdrop that there is next to no issue that wasn’t addressed therein, such that almost every positive book in print is nothing but a commentary on one or more themes in the Bible. For instance, Norman Vincent Pearle’s monumental The Power of Positive Thinking is nothing but a commentary on chapter four verse thirteen of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Pearle confessed it himself in the introduction of that book.

One recurrent theme in the Bible is ‘leadership.’ And employing many practical examples to driving down leadership ideals, especially from the great leadership tradition of the Sons of Israel, which God had established himself, for he himself was their first king, it remains the most sought after and reliable piece of literature on leadership. It is exactly for this reason that we are taking off our reflection on leadership, precisely the servant-leadership model, from the Bible. To say the least, the very idea of servant-leader is of scriptural origin; Jesus Christ himself authored it, and practically launched it on Maundy Thursday.

And then it happened in 1 Samuel 8:5 that the Sons of Israel demanded for a king. They envied other nations’ kingship, to the extent that they became dissatisfied with their Theocracy, which featured God himself as their king with Judges for His mouthpiece. Samuel, due to age, had just made his sons, Joel and Abijah, Judges in his stead, but his sons’ ways gave them a cause for concern, given that they were perverse. They wanted a king instead, a king they could see, feel and touch. They wanted a king that could ‘physically’ lead their army to war. They wanted a king that would help them forge alliances with other nations. And, they wanted a king that would be a visible expression of their greatness and might. Although they immediately premised their demand on their vote-of-no-confidence on the sons of Samuel, they expressed their deepest hunger.

Being mediator between the people and God, Samuel goes ahead to make known their request to God. On this, God made their wish His command. But He does them one favour, requesting Samuel to hint them on the rights and privileges due to a human king. And on this note, and recorded in 1 Samuel 8:11-17, Samuel made them this list: He will make your sons his servants and those of his commanders, they will plough his fields and reap his harvest, he will conscript your daughters to the service of his household, he will assign the best of your fields to his friends, and you yourselves will become his slaves [paraphrased]. To say the least, in this hint lies the understanding of what I call the classic leadership model, and next to every leadership type and style on earth (charismatic, traditional, political; democratic, monarchical, oligarchic, gerontocratic, autocratic, etc.) largely draws inspiration from it.

The hallmark of classic leadership is service to the leader. Let me immediately say that there is no doubt that ‘service to the people’ is an already implied meaning of leadership, but that is ‘really’ not the case in classic leadership, as the classic leader is so exalted that the ‘purported service’ he/she renders is an expression of pride or mercy; to have the leader serve – in the practical sense of that word – is, as a matter of fact, an act of condescension. The classic leader is so exalted that he/she becomes identical to the people; his/her will becomes the will of the people, and not the other way round. And this would find full expression in King Louis XIV of France, who identified himself as the State (L’Etat c’est moi). The people paid tribute to him, did him homage, served him, and, when need arose, laid down their lives for him.

There are a number of theories from where classic leadership got its characterization, such as Thomas Hobbes’ enthronement of the Leviathan following from his origin of the state. For him, the leader had to be a [logical] product, a monster so to speak, of an aggregation of all the people. He had to wield absolute power to help turn the fortunes of a state of nature characterized by brutality, nastiness, poverty and shortness around. Drawing from this, the classic leader is so exalted in order to smack down the pride of many a man, and secure conformity in the process. Seen from this light, there is no doubt that this is a good thing, but there is more.

While the Gospel of John chapter one verse fourteen relates that the Word [that was God] became flesh and dwelt among us, Acts of the Apostles chapter ten verse thirty-eight reports that He went about doing good, and the Gospel of Mark chapter seven verse thirty-seven concluded that He did all things well. In Christ, God came down from heaven to not only restore our lot but to show us the way to happiness. And one critical sector of human social engineering he revolutionized was the leadership sector. The God whose first leadership approach (theocracy) was rejected would show up again, not giving up on His children, with a new approach (servant-leadership), an approach that would change everything forever. In this approach, especially, he would come down in flesh, live among, be one with them in everything (including suffering but not sin), and walked through their towns and villages freeing them from the forces of sickness, poverty, and evil bent on dominating them.

Now, Jesus didn’t intend his servant-leadership model to be observed in passing. No. He did give a full lecture on it – in action first, and then in words. On Maundy Thursday, the day preceding his suffering and death, while at table for supper with ‘those who were his own in the world,’ he not only showed them the depth of his love for them, but left them a ritual to perform for all time to come. I don’t mean the Eucharist here, I mean servant-leadership. Read up the full gist from the gospels.

Let’s look at the significant points: all of a sudden he stands up, removes his outer garment, girds his waist with a towel, pours water into a basin, stoops down at feet of the first person and begins to wash them with water and wiping them with the towel. He proceeds to the next, and the next, and the next, until he got to the very vocal and protesting Peter. After the washing of feet went round, he returned to his seat at the head of the table, and then opens his mouth to speak the lessons. He begins with a question, “Do you understand what I have done to you?” Being of the classic leadership order they surely couldn’t understand. As even the impetuous Peter was yet to recover from his shock, Jesus continued, “You call me lord, master, and teacher; that I am. If I then, your lord and teacher, have washed your feet, then you must wash one another’s feet” (cf. John 13:14). Remember that washing of feet was done by slaves; the master now did it.

To do a full commentary on the Last Supper episode, especially as it concerns leadership, will gulp down space and time. However, this summary is critical: in servant-leadership, the leader really and truly serves, empties him/herself out for the followers, goes with them every inch of the journey, shows them the way not just by words but by deeds, calms their fears and dries their tears, lights up their darkness and waters their dryness, bandages their wounds and mends their broken hearts, and goes with them not just a long way but all the way.

One may immediately be wondering how this is possible in a complex and complicated society like ours. Simple enough: it behooves on the servant-leader to put in place institutions that would ride with the flow of servant-leadership. And although many leaders now do a blend of classic leadership and servant-leadership, unadulterated servant-leadership remains the very best.

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56th anniversary of ‘My Nigeria’: a good day to think differently

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They can take all else, but they can't take our Independence Day!

About a month ago, a man I respected so much and admired from a distance insulted me. Perhaps he didn’t mean to, but he did. And he certainly didn’t know I felt insulted since I didn’t give him the slightest hint; I maintained my calm, kept my eyes glued to the floor, and endeavored not to take the insult personal. What was it all about, you may already be wondering. Simple: he needed to go through my work before endorsing some papers for me, and this was what he fired at me after reading the very first paragraph, “Sometimes you people write like you’re not graduates, not to talk of being graduates of the University of Nigeria. How can you be writing ‘My Nigeria’?” That I referred to Nigeria as ‘my Nigeria’ was my crime, for which I wasn’t a good writer, and for which my finishing from the University of Nigeria is questionable. However, I both laughed last and best when I observed he was nodding at subsequent paragraphs; he’d judged me too soon.

Leaving his office that day, it dawned on me that the one crime I’d love to keep committing, if it is indeed a crime, is say and write ‘my Nigeria.’ It is my Nigeria because it is the only country I can proudly call home, and the late Chinua Achebe would insist that ‘home is home’ – no matter what and where! Saying and writing ‘My Nigeria’ also confers on me a burden of responsibility, the responsibility of giving to Nigeria rather than only asking this or that of her. Yes, ‘my Nigeria’ confers a sense of ownership!

Today, the 56th independence anniversary of ‘my Nigeria,’ it behooves on me to think differently – and positively. It is a duty. I’ve to keep this in mind because the temptation to think otherwise abound. 99.9% of the things that would be said and written about Nigeria today will chronicle her tales of woes; the US in congratulating Nigeria already said she has a long way to go. Today, some will talk about her failure to get leadership right, some will lament her dilapidated infrastructure, some will decry her perennial romance with corruption, and some will report inefficiency of her various institutions of governance. And they will all be correct, since a whole lot is going terribly wrong in this clime. In fact, ‘my Nigeria’ seems to be cruising on the speed lane but doing so in reverse gear, a good example being the daily free fall of Naira to Dollar – it’s been falling as fast as it takes a drop of rain to hit the ground from the clouds.

Today, I must think differently – and I’m on it already. I must ask myself of what use I am to the ‘Nigerian project.’ I must tell myself the truth about what contribution I’m making towards the way forward. I must think about how ready I’m getting to feature among the next generation of Nigerian leaders. I must resolve to criticize those at the hem of affairs only constructively, and never insanely. Today, I must personally think differently. And I hope I’m not going to be doing that alone. I hope a number of other Nigerians will do same, especially you.

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Congrats to the President of 'My Nigeria' on Naija@56

God bless Nigeria. Always.