Finding the Leader Within

Leadership provides opportunities, throws up the unexpected challenges and also makes you question yourself as you try to curve out your niche. Each one of us has experienced being a leader in one setting or other..

How to run a government
How to win and lose elections
How to gain and lose power
How to manage a business
How to lead an organisation
How to lead your community
How to run your home/household

Leadership is not thrust upon you it is a combination of seizing of opportunities and discovering one’s innate ability….” Leaders are born not made”

Leadership requires knowing oneself, being self analytical, laser focus, charting out your path in the changing landscape of life.

” From the outside, people in leadership look all-powerful; on the inside, the often feel helpless, stretched to beyond breaking point by expectations on one hand and the sheer complexity of the task at hand” and here I am paraphrasing Michael Barber

” How to Run A Government: So that Citizens Benefit”… for those of you that read and intend to serve in public service, international organisations, and take up political leadership this book is not only a MUST READ but an essential reference along your journey.

My experience has been that setting long-term goals and clear time -bound targets is important…even though you may not always fully achieve them. The other important experience is that at each stage do your best and move one….do not linger or get too attached especially as a political leader….TIME WAITS FOR NO ONE.

At the age of 16 my dream was to graduate at Makerere University and do my postgraduate studies at one of the Ivy league universities in Nigeria….I went on to complete my BA degree at Makerere University and graduate studies at University of Glasgow in Scotland in the mid-80s. Almost three decades later I now live in Nigeria…and have since visited the universities that I dreamt of joining back then as a youth full of energy and adventure. I do not think my path would have been any different from what it became as a result of my glaswegian experiment.

At the age of 35 as an adviser to a Minister of Finance….had an interesting conversation with one of the advisers of Clare Short that had announced that she was making her last official trip before her retirement from active public service at the age of 50…I admired her and set my self the same target…but missed it by 2 years and 23 days…retired at age 52 in March this year. I have embarked on a new journey that is the embodiment of transition from a life with clear goals and targets set within societal norms to one where it is an open playing field and involves more of self discovery, soul searching and questioning some of one’s values….have I been useful to my community and how have I contributed to the delivery of the public good? Can I do better?

As young leaders you are agents of change but must be willing to take responsibility and be held accountable for your actions. John Kotter “Our Iceberg is Melting”…. succeeding no matter the circumstances….succeeding by identifying champions of your idea….succeeding by galvanising a team and moving in the same direction.

As a leader you must be realistic and know that each one can contribute to a transformative process…so you must carry everyone along. Seek out the more quiet souls of the team and listen , observe each member of the team and bring out their strong points and comparative advantage…this was my key lesson as a lead economist at the AfDB …it took time for I am naturally a very impatient person…” Hurricane Barbara” was my nick name at the UNDP. You must be willing to make sacrifices, take risks, stand up for your values and beliefs.

To succeed and push the boundary may mean getting out of one’s comfort zone…..comfort zones also evolve…for the past 18 years my comfort zone was international organisations living as an expatriate and diplomat in various countries…my new comfort zone is my own creation ….IMARA AFRICA consulting services where I work from my study at home, my own space…but during a recent visit to my home country Uganda I realised that the only way I could engage is if I either join government or politics…that would be outside my comfort zone…do I have the courage , energy or desire to go that route? Only time will tell whether I will once again push the frontier…

So my parting words to you agents of change, now is your time, I encourage you to take up leadership positions across the spectrum…I would love to see many of you invade the international and regional institutions and lead disruptive innovative processes so that they are nimble and flexible enough to address the many global challenges but most important build and strengthen our regional and country institutions in Africa.