On Monday, I had a meeting with an old acquaintance who works as a Manager with one of the oldest conglomerates in Africa. Before we discussed business, we chatted about a number of things. For individuals who had not spoken to each other in a few years, a lot of mutually-interesting conversation lines were explored.

The issue of Leadership was a take-home. Why do many people perceive and understand leadership as a superior endowment?

Leadership in my opinion and perception is an opportunity (not position) for responsibility, a potential to influence people (not drive them), a reason to persuade (not instruct). In those phrases, I believe I have described what leadership entails.

More often, we see leadership as greatness. Leadership is mostly branded as greatness. As a result, a position (and title) is required to manifest this greatness. Without a position, leadership is often ridiculed. In school, I was taught that Power is the use of coercive force over another (subordinate) to obtain obedience and Authority was the application of legalised or instituted influence. For as long as we see Leadership as greatness, we miss the mark.

Leadership is not and can never be greatness because amongst other things, in leadership; individuals fail, falter, mess up etc. Leadership is not greatness because it rarely is a glorified, glamorous and positive opportunity. Leadership will never be greatness because the outcomes of effective, transformational and positive leadership are what may be measured and where tangential; attributed to an individual or greatness.

So, I am often worried when individuals aspire for positions, scratch that; greatness in order to be called Leaders. I used to tell people not to refer to me as a Youth Leader. I do not and have never seen myself as someone in front of other people (the way it often sounds) and so, have never looked back with the aim of seeing a multitude behind me. I’ll briefly state why.

Perhaps, my claim to being a ‘Youth Leader’ is co-founding a Youth-Driven, Youth-Targeted and/or Youth Development initiative. I admit that it built (and increasingly does) traction. I also, would admit that I still like to discuss the dreams and visions of others, giving my thoughts from experience on steps to be taken. I learnt recently that I bully some others from time to time 🙂

The danger, in my opinion in accepting that title is that it is both wrong and misleading. Being a Youth Leader would mean speaking for about 75Million individuals and supposedly leading them when I cannot claim to have met close to 1Million of them.

On the flip side, if the level of achievements was a criterion; I would not pass the litmus test because in finding and giving recognition to young people, I realised that I had to get to work. So many others daily fostered change, impacted lives, sustained families and increased their list of laurels and/or prizes at levels that are deeply moving and truly inspiring.

Back to the issue of leadership. For as long as we equate leadership with greatness, people will aspire for positions. This is why we hear people talk about followers getting the leaders they deserve (I intend to share my thoughts on this soon). The manifestation of this is obvious in how many young people start businesses without any form of experience.

I admit that I may have made the same mistake. My first enterprise was at 16. It was called B&E Resources and it was a partnership. With no experience, we struggled and it dovetailed into another partnership, RedSTRAT Communications. Six years later, I moved on yet I would admit to having made many more mistakes afterwards as life remains a learning curve.

The core reason young people want to start their businesses is simple. Its great to be a leader (Usual suspects: Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg etc) and a successful one too. Be the CEO, drive your vision without interference, make money, be successful. However, experience is not bought in the market place like my CEO (@inionuk) used to say this to me a long time ago, a lot of times. I would shrug it off and respond (almost retorting) that experience was not the principal thing in all cases (another blog topic).

So, a young (wo)man becomes a CEO of a company. Appears very successful and suddenly becomes a ‘leader’. With no experience and a badly managed company possibly on a highway to extinction, he/she receives countless speaking invitations to ‘inspire’ others and share his/her ‘success stories’.

Most times, he /she utters hog wash from a combination of books found fashionable to read or dazzles the crowd with turnover figures or profit margins that are largely not a true representation of the company and earns an ovation. CEOs are not necessarily the only leaders because most times; they provide insight in taking final decisions on work done by tonnes of other people. Although they take responsibility for the entire team, that title only does not equate leadership.

Leadership for any individual should remain an opportunity to influence, motivate or cause another individual to take action, personally. For others, it falls far off a title or position but is obvious in our daily lives. Friends, family, observers first enjoy this value before others. So, I can lead my church to take action with an ‘innocent’ question during a ‘townhall meeting’ without ever being invited to the Leaders Council Meeting. Whether or not he/she is close to a position of authority or power, anyone can lead others. The approach, style, manner or method is personal and varies from one individual to another.

Leadership should also not be infallible. Leaders who make mistakes must take responsibility and admit them. This is why the recent war of words between the Nigerian Presidency and ‘Opposition groups’ is discouraging. Whilst the opposition voices are often harsh and blunt in their criticisms, the Presidency has resorted to proving their lack of merit to criticise.

A political leader must come out plain to say where there are challenges. It builds respect and provides an opportunity for opposing voices to contribute or shy away from nation building – a collective role for all citizens.

For as long as only the opinions of CEOs and other ‘leaders’ are sought rather than those who manage them or regular individuals; as long as leadership is seen only when a position and title is assumed, the world will continue to seek leadership as a human capital asset.

Although this phrase has an ambiguous connotation than its surface meaning, I think the big question should be: are you a learner or a leader?

I think we are all leaders on a learning curve, learners first but leaders in every right.

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