As “Mary Ann Byrnes rose to address the workers seated before her, she looked over a room full of skeptical faces. The engineers, all male, had spent most of their lives working for a huge defense contractor, California-based TRW, which had just jettisoned them and their
project. Resultantly, government, the client, would no longer pay for their services; they had to become civilian workers, making and selling their product in a competitive market, and this small woman was supposed to lead the way.
In addition to the problem of a “small woman, who was supposed to lead the way”, was the inherent nature, of the problem, of the company itself. “The new company, Corsair Communications, was created as a spin-off company; the equity structure was such that TRW held twenty percent, venture capitalists held sixty percent, and the employees held twenty percent. When Brynes was hired as CEO, Corsair already had a product (although it was far from perfected), a multimillion-dollar contract with a cellular carrier, and a group of first-rate engineers.
Everything was in place to build the new business except the glue that would hold it together.” (Daft, 1999:3-4) The glue needed to hold Corsair together was leadership.
As a preamble to this treatise, I copiously quoted an authority in leadership as a result of the peculiar nature of the instance cited and how leadership at the political and community levels stands to benefit from the rather difficult scenario. That Mary, a woman, was charged with the responsibility of leading men who had “spent most of their lives” working as engineers for a defense contractor, in a new civilian multimillion-dollar enterprise, underscores how arduous the
terrain of leadership could be, and how divinely anybody could be positioned to do it at God own time as she, Mary, successfully led them through.
Thus, leadership, Barna, (1997:21) offers that: “there is no universally accepted definition. Ask ten leadership analysts to define their discipline and they will probably provide a dozen or more
definitions;” more definitions than analysts. This, Barna offers, is because “leadership is not a science, it is an art, [which]…by its very nature, virtually defies definition”.
However, for this purpose, I will adopt Rost (1993), who defined leadership “as an influence relationship among leaders and followers who are determined to achieve authentic changes that are in consonance with their shared objectives. In a similar vein, consider Garry Wills, who described leadership as the ability to “mobilize others toward a goal shared by the leader and followers.” (Barna, 1997:21) Further, for Cole (1998:206) “leadership is a social process in which one person in a group harnesses the knowledge, skills and motivation of the other members in the attainment of group goals.” Again, Koontz et. al. (1980:480) define leadership as “influence, the art or process of influencing people so that they will strive willingly toward the
achievement of group goals.”
A cursory view of the above definitions shows that they have a common feature, which is presented as “shared objectives,” and “a goal shared by the leaders and followers,” by Rost and Wills, respectively; interestingly, Cole and Koontz et al utilize the term “group goals.”
We also note that while Cole’s definition is particularistic (“one person in a group”), Rost, Mills and Koontz et al, on the other hand, adopted a universalistic approach–the collective paradigm.
Elucidating on the above definitions, especially from the universalistic perspective, Daft (1999:5) offers that: “Leadership involves influence; it occurs among people, those people intentionally
desire significant changes and the changes reflect purposes shared by the leaders and followers.”
People involved in this dyadic relationship usually desire substantive innovations or transformation of the state of affairs and not the maintenance of the status quo. Also, only the leader or leaders do not determine the changes, which are the mutual objectives of the
collective effort; rather, they reflect purposes shared by the leaders and the followers. This is the core of the chemistry of the effort; and here is where success or failure originates. Thus, “leadership involves the influence of people (leaders and followers, alike) to bring about change toward a desirable future.” (Daft, 1999:5)
Taken from the perspective of a formal organization, leadership is reciprocal; in other words, superiors influence subordinates and the subordinates also influence the superiors by way of weighty, well-thought-out suggestions in the process of achieving the mutual objectives; this process is institutionalized in formal organizations.
Since followers are an inevitable part of the leadership course of action and leaders are sometimes followers in the continuum of human and societal relationship, leadership is, therefore, a sociological activity as it occurs only among people and there must be followers
for the leaders to lead. (Hayward, 1995)
A further note on leadership: good leaders know how to follow and they set a good example for others; good followers are not “yes people” who follow the leader blindly; rather, they are those who support good ideas and politely express their objection to ideas they consider
objectionable, in the collective interest. Leadership is a learning process; people who have experience in leadership (perhaps, of smaller groups) are better followers in bigger groups. Leadership is a collective effort and responsibility. Efficient leaders and effective
followers are, at times, one and the same people–playing the same roles at various times, settings and places.
Leadership is a daily method of reasoning and acting in any given situation; it has very little to do with a title or formal position in an organization, community or political system.
Repudiating an old stereotype, Kelley (1988) offers that leaders are not different from followers and they are not above others; in reality, the qualities needed for effective leadership are the same as those needed to be an effective follower. While leadership can be innate in some individuals, it can be learned. Again, effectiveness in leadership in a particular setting does not necessarily guarantee success in leadership in another setting; and the process takes the
uninitiated from the stage of unconscious incompetence through the two intermediary stages of conscious incompetence and conscious competence to the final stage of unconscious competence.
Thus, the new reality of leadership involves a conscious effort on the part of every individual who is desirous of leadership to depart from the old paradigm and embrace the new. While the old paradigm was relevant to the industrial age and was hinged on stability, control,
unhealthy competition, objects/things and uniformity, the new paradigm is of the information age, and has come to terms with the reality of the adage that the only thing permanent is change. It preaches empowerment of the individual and strengthens people for effective
collaborative endeavors, focuses on individuals and relationships and encourages diversity, which it considers an invaluable asset for diversification towards a competitive edge in the global marketplace.
Finally, the contingency theory, which, according to its proponent, Fiedler (1967:6), holds that: “Leadership is any process in which the ability of a leader to exercise influence depends upon the group task situation and the degree to which the leader’s style, personality, and
approach fit the group. In other words, people become leaders not only because of the attributes of their personality but also because of various situational factors and the interaction between the leaders and the situation.”
As a result of the importance of leadership to all kinds of the group action (formal and informal), there has been an extensive number of theories and research covering the subject. From the monumental study in which Stogdill (1974) abstracted and analyzed more than three
thousand books and articles on leadership theory and research, it became apparent that from 1930 to 1939 there was an average of twenty-one studies per year; thirty-one studies between 1940 and 1944; fifty-five studies per year from 1945 to 1949 and one hundred and
fifty-two studies per year from 1950 to 1953.
Contemporarily, the importance of leadership is indicated by the fact that books focusing primarily on leadership abound in the marketplace while books on management, organizational behaviour, public administration, personnel management and related disciplines devote a
voluminous chapter on the subject. Following the close observation and critical analysis of the equestrian skills, confidence and courage of Alexander the Great, his father, Philip II of Macedon (382-336BC), reportedly said that the Greek state of Macedon was too small for the
ambitions of Alexander. Akinlotan (2010) offers that Plutarch, the Greek historian, attests to this account and proceeded to give even more colourful and accurate account of the circumstances surrounding the birth of the future conqueror. Alexander the Great went ahead and
took power at the tender age of twenty and by the time he died 12 years later he had conquered everything and place that caught his fancy; he did not lose a single war. From the tender age of thirteen to sixteen, Alexander was a student under Aristotle, the great philosopher and logician.
Facts show that, most of the founding fathers of Nigeria achieved greatness in their forties, a censorious study of their background, competence and education shows that age was hardly the factor that gave them the edge. The history books tell us that Chief Obafemi Awolowo became premier of the Western Region at forty-three while Sir Ahmadu Bello took the same position in the North at forty-four.
Elsewhere in Africa, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania took the mantle of leadership at thirty-nine, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia at forty, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana at forty-two and later at forty-eight; Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt at forty-six and Kemal Mustapha Ataturk of Turkey at
Therefore, coming to rule African nations at old age is dysfunctional and ungrounded as in modern times, we have noted that even in otherwise conservative societies, power has shifted from an older generation to a younger one. If we take the case of Russia, we note that compared to the likes of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and earlier leaders of the Polit Buro of USSR, Vladimir Putin and Medvedev are kindergarten. In similar vein, Tony Blair and David Cameron of Great Britain do not compare in age with Winston Churchill and other prime ministers of yesteryears. We also note that one of the reasons that endeared Barak Obama to the US public, especially the youths, is his ability to reach and interact with them fairly regularly through
social media—a medium his septuagenarian opponent, John McCain, was unable to use. The emergence of Obama brought the euphoric nostalgia of the youthful Presidency of John F. Kennedy (Camelot) and Bill Clinton.
The idea of power shift to the younger generation in Nigeria is not supposed to become an issue. Chief Obafemi Awolowo (Nigeria), Sir Ahmadu Bello (Nigeria), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt) and Kemal
Mustapha Ataturk (Turkey), to mention but a few, all took the mantle of leadership of their countries in their forties or earlier.
Obviously, the objective of the short-lived diatribe on age and leadership in Nigeria was anything but nationalistic.
Teachers as born in 1951, Umaru Yar’Adua ascended to the presidency in 2007; that puts him at the age of fifty-six years; and Goodluck Jonathan, born in 1957 and ascended to the presidency in 2010; that puts him at the age of fifty-three. If we juxtapose these with the age
of the founding fathers who, as stated earlier, “took the mantle of leadership of [this nation] in their forties or earlier” then it is obvious that there has not been any generational shift in leadership in Nigeria.
Shockingly, the major problem in Nigeria is the recent shift again to the older generation from the 1980s; and what reactions would be to the leadership shift at the presidential level to a woman/female, although several women as Dr. Sarah Jibril had contested in the past.
What is more, Johnson Saleef of Liberia and Angela Markel of Germany have set the pace and demonstrated it all, as such, that would be possibility 2019, if given a chance, and I assure all Nigerians, it will work out as the case of Mary Ann Byrnes!
Coined: Adesanya-Davies M.O (eds.), 2011. Jonathan/Sambo Presidency in
Nigeria: A Symbol of Peace, Unity and Progress.
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