When we were little, all the adults in our lives would tell us one thing over and over again; “you’re the leaders of tomorrow”.
We would hear it from our parents, from our teachers, from the politician talking on TV, we’ll sing it to ourselves and encourage each other with the notion.
We find a comfortable little space in our subconscious mind to house this very important belief; a promise of some future greatness.
As we grow older, the belief grows with us. It becomes “youths are the leaders of tomorrow” and we continue to see leadership as something that will eventually happen further down the line.
In case it’s still not obvious to you, there are some serious problems with this message which every Nigerian kid has internalized:
1. It suggests that leadership is something that belongs to only the adults.
2. It doesn’t say when and how the transition will happen from a youth to an adult with leadership potentials.
3. It subtly suggests that leadership means holding some important position.
The resultant effect of this conditioning is a teeming population of twenty-something-year-olds who complain about things but lack the capacity or zeal to change them. They don’t understand what it means to take action because they don’t believe they’re capable just yet.
A message which sounds right and totally harmless had turned out to be grossly misunderstood.
This post today is to clear this misunderstanding by explaining what leadership entails and why you don’t need to be fourty-something-year-old before you can be a leader.
Before we look at the things that make a leader, lets put aside the things that don’t:
1. Leadership has nothing to do with your position or title
Just because you end up holding a certain position, that doesn’t necessarily make you a leader. A president can be just that; a president without being a leader, a manager of a company might be the last person you can refer to as a leader. People might be answerable to you by virtue of your position, but that alone doesn’t always make you a leader.
2. Leadership has little to do with your personal trait
Just because you’re extroverted or charismatic, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll use those characteristics to lead. In fact, you might end up using them to do the last thing you’ll catch a leader doing; cheating and deceiving people.
3. Leadership has nothing to do with the number of your followers
Having people who follow your command doesn’t translate to being a leader. There’s a purpose to every leadership story.
4. Leadership isn’t power or authority
It is what you do with it.
What is leadership then, and who can we call a leader?
I found this definition by Dr. Travis Bradberry very much on point. He said:
“Leadership is a process of social influence that maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of a greater good”
The key words in this definition are social influence, others, and a greater good.
So a leader is any person who is able to influence others to put their effort towards achieving a greater good.
The intention is as important as the means.
You see, what this means is that you don’t need any position to be a leader, what you need is, as Dr. Travis puts it, “mindset in action”.
You can be a leader in your family, in your class, or in your community. You can be a leader in your place of work even if you’re the most junior member. You can be a leader anywhere there is the need for some good to be done, and people willing to listen to you and put their effort towards achieving it.
This is what we need to be telling the younger generation because feeding them with cliched messages about the future of the country being in their hands is obviously not doing the trick.
Dear Nigerian youths reading this, understand that now is the time to be a leader. Tomorrow is here.