Towards 2023 Series 3: Leadership

Taruvinga Magwiroto

If life is a journey, then leadership is the most crucial variable in that journey. The influence of leadership in that journey is pervasive: leaders determine the destination, direction and the route of the journey.

In the previous instalment, I introduced the ‘God’ metaphor. I said that when we are looking for political leaders, we are looking for God. This is the character dimension of a leader: respected enough to command loyalty and powerful enough to dispense discipline. A true leader aspires to have effective power so that they are able to set and implement their developmental agenda.

A leader needs to be attuned to the aspirations of his people. As the religious say, ‘Mwari imhepo’ loosely translates to ‘God is as pervasive as the wind’. Leaders understand the plight and aspirations of their people because they are there among the people. Leaders inspire by deed and example, and the story and narrative of their personal life is scrutinized and fetished. The leader is a cult hero, the object of fantasy and tribal veneration. Leaders embody the people’s aspirations.

Leaders need to be intelligent. They need to understand the ways of the world and how things work. In particular, they need to understand broadly how the economy works, how diplomacy works and how the physical and social world work. By the same token, leaders need to understand how change happens. They need to know where the levers of power are located, and be bold enough to use them when necessary.

More importantly, leaders need to be learners. They need to be always learning and evolving with the demands of the job, the vicissitudes of the external environment and be receptive to new ideas. They need to understand that in Schon (1984)’s words: “the situation speaks back”. Therefore this means that leaders need to create space for learning in their daily routine; space for interaction with both experts and ordinary people.

Most important of all, leaders need to be reflective people; people with access to their own thoughts and the thoughts of others; they should be aware of themselves as human beings. Learning leaders tend to display that most godly of characteristic: empathy.

Coming now to the roles of leadership, it is clear that a leader in a developmental state such as Zimbabwe has to embrace the roles that will leverage and galvanize development. There is no doubt that Zimbabwe is well-endowed with resources. But it is equally clear that physical resources on their own are not enough to cause the development of a nation. So what is missing?

I will turn to Schumacher (1974) for part of the answer.In an influential book Schumacher (1974: 140) made an astute observation: “The primary causes of poverty are immaterial, they lie in certain deficiencies in education, organisation and discipline”. Schumacher argues that the development of countries has less to do with visible (physical) resources than with the invisible resources alluded above.

Supplying the Invisible Resources

A leader’s role in a developmental state such as ours is to provide the kind of leadership that will supply the invisible resources. Here, we are concerned with two principal dimensions that constitute real leadership: ideas and action.

The leader as intellectual

Because leading involves understanding and acting in a complex world, the leader must be an intellectual to some degree. He or she must be formally educated in domains crucial to running the state. In our case, the leader must have ideas about how to run the economy; ideas about how to feed the populace; ideas about how to create national wealth; ideas about how to distribute opportunities and ideas about how to steward the productive base which is the physical environment. It is not possible to expect the leader to have expert-level knowledge about these issues, but he or she should have definite broad positions and inclinations.

Just as an example, it is beyond doubt that the land is central to all wealth in Zimbabwe; just as it is central to food security. The leader’s ideas about land management, tenure, environmental stewardship and stance on wealth creation and the ethical issues around these subjects needs to be sound and fully articulated. It is clearly not enough to say, “We should be building an airport in Mutoko, or a dual carriageway from Harare to Bulawayo”. Just as it is not enough to say, “Let’s make money”. Building airports in rural areas or making money anyway and anyhow may sound like good political soundbites, but they are not sound enough ideas to guide a vision of the future of an ambitious country such as Zimbabwe.

Leader as organizer

Leaders need to be organized personally and as CEOs. Their sense and quality of organisation must reflect itself in their government. Priorities must be spot on; the bureaucratic machinery must purr along smoothly; bottle necks must be attended to swiftly, and breakdowns quickly mended. The business of the arms of the state must move along smoothly; authority delegated effectively and Ministries staffed effectively. Order rather than chaos must be the characteristic of government.

Leader as facilitative-actor

Here, we are looking at the leader as the number one cheerleader of his nation. He galvanizes action; stirs enthusiasm and inspires action. He must present a sunny, positive demeanor, a can-do attitude and an all-action hands-on approach to his work. It requires energy and stamina to project such exuberance, but that is a role that is becoming necessary to turn around the attitudes of a populace that is becoming disillusioned by political leaders.

Leader as wise statesman

There is no doubt that a leader will face problems, storms, unexpected and expected problems. How they handle conflicts within and outside the nation will depend on temperament, character and wisdom. Wisdom is a function of executive experience, maturity and reflection. Here, the leader will have to lean on the team around him or her. This means in a big way, the leader appoints and deploys based on competences and complementarity of talents; as well as the need to ensure representation and fairness to all corners of the nation. The team around a leader says as much about the leader than anything else. It is tempting to surround oneself with relatives and friends, but real wisdom lies in choosing a team that can deliver development dividends while bringing a feel-good factor of national cohesion.

From the foregoing discussion, it is clear that leadership depends on character; ability to play certain roles and all-round competence in understanding human nature and having a certain orientation to power. In the next instalment, Towards 2023 Series 4, I discuss Ideas for development.

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