Many people believe that in order to succeed in corporate or governance leadership, one needs to have a role model whose quality of leadership they would love to imitate.
In many leadership training sessions or seminars, some trainers try to make their trainees believe that leadership is an affair of copy and paste.
Justin King once wrote, “Be the person you really are. Leadership is very personal and one of things people sniff out more than anything else is reality. Leaders who are not sincere get found out quickly.”
In his book on Leadership, Allan Leighton, says, “There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution…being true to your own inherent nature is far more important than trying to live up to some preconceived ideal.”
As the Former Chief Executive of the Guardian Media Group of UK, Carolyn McCall once put it, “One of the characteristics of a really strong leader is that ‘they don’t try to be someone else…they don’t emulate others’ behaviour. They are themselves and have their own conviction.”
According to Leighton, being true to yourself demands real self-knowledge -- and this is quality that’s often in scarce supply. Leighton further says that we need to understand our own strengths and weaknesses and to work with them.
In the corporate world or government circles, some leaders believe that they can imitate some of the previous great managers who built their companies or countries to a great level.
Some imitate speeches of great men like Dr Martin Luther King Jr, while others copy and paste the style of great inventors like Steve Jobs—in an attempt to make themselves great leaders in their businesses or society.
But the truth is that there was only one Martin Luther King Jr, or Steve Jobs. There was only one Julius Nyerere or Nelson Mandela. The rest are a poor imitation or mere shadows of those great statesmen.
What some of our corporate or government leaders don’t understand is that we don’t imitate others, we can only try to learn from their successes and failures. There’s a great difference between learning from someone’s success or failures and imitating that person.
To put things into simple perspective, we can admire and nurture great corporate and government leaders but cannot equal them, hoping to act and behave like them in our everyday life.
The factors that inspired Barack Obama from a simple African-American family to the world’s most powerful man vary significantly from features, which shaped Tony Blair to be the one of the youngest Prime Ministers of UK.
What enabled Taitus Naikuni to build the most successful airline in the region (Kenya Airways) differs sharply from factors that led Dr Charles Kimei to take CRDB bank from near-collapse in 1990s to where it’s today.
However, there are some common principles of good leaders. These principles are what Leighton in his book about Leadership called, “The Anatomy of a leader”.
“I have been constantly struck over the years at how certain qualities emerge again and again when I encounter leaders I particularly admire…they may be an extrovert or introvert, larger than life or self-effacing.
“They will have taken very different paths to success: some will have taken the entrepreneurial route, starting with nothing to create a world-class business, while others will have been classic professional managers who worked their way up through the ranks of an established company…but they all seem to share certain characteristics.”
According to Leighton, the five main characteristics, which many great leaders share are the power of passion, decision-making and risk taking, making mistakes, the whole truth and self- confidence. There are many more similarities of great leaders, but these are the major ones identified and discussed in Leighton’s book.
Today, the challenge we face in both corporate and government leadership is lack of quality, with many of the organisations or governments in Africa led by ‘copy-and-paste’ leaders.
Our businesses need managers not administrators, while our governments need leaders instead of rulers. The difference between a manager and administrator is that the former has vision while the latter just follows the order even if those rules are taking him and the entire organisation into destruction.
The difference between a leader and ruler is that the former sets the pace leading at the front, while the latter stays behind, following the pace.
That’s why we strongly believe that leadership cannot be an affair of ‘copycats.’