Why Conventional Training is Not Improving Leadership in Africa

“Leadership is the cause and all other things are effects”. This statement has constantly been reiterated and widely popularized by the former Rector of the Ghana Institute for Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Prof Stephen Adei.

I totally agree with the Professor. However, the missing ingredient in leadership thinking and practice in Africa is in the approach and appropriate understanding of the historical and current development context. It has become apparent that Africa has leadership deficits. These deficits do not operate in a vacuum but within a historical paradigm and present day developments.Every African can articulate and possibly provide anecdotal stories and in some cases evidence of these deficits. The quality of life and the relationships between leaders and the led is a vivid reminder of this reality.

The apparent socio-economic gap between the rich and the poor and disconnect between governments and the people they are supposed to be serving are some prominent pieces of evidence that show the failure in leadership at all levels of endeavour on the continent.

For decades, governments, organisations and individuals have made commendable efforts to respond to this challenge through the provision of knowledge, skills training and behavioural modeling.

However, I strongly believe that present-day conventional leadership training will not transform our continent and produce the kind of leaders we want.

We need to stretch beyond current practice. It is time to identify, adapt and adopt innovative methods to shape the leaders of our time. We need leaders who can respond to the social, economic and political challenges facing the continent.

The African continent has been crying out for a critical mass of leaders that can transform and lead social change to positively affect everyday life.

This cry may never stop if we do not evaluate the current approach to leadership thinking and practice by taking into consideration socio-political influences and strategies to turn those forces into lasting social change.

“Leadership is the cause, all other things are effects”

How do I perceive conventional leadership training?

Conventional leadership training focuses on the applicable competence and character of a leader. It focuses on providing theoretical paradigms of what a leader should be. It lays little or no emphasis on what a leader should do and how (s) he should do it to achieve the goals of the people (s) he is serving.

There is no use attending a training that highlights the characteristics of an influential leader without it taking into consideration the historical, social, political and economic environment.

I find it rather disheartening that most leadership models and tools do not focus on socio-political influences. Forces that if carefully taken into consideration and given due analysis, can help trainees identify practical approaches to significantly manage their influences.

Socio-political influences are the most powerful forces. This is where threats fester and continue to evolve with severe consequences.

Therefore, there is the need for a shift on how leadership is cultivated and developed in Africa. The starting point should be developing educational curriculum, models and mechanisms to respond to socio-political influences.

So what are these socio-political influences?

Inadequate life-long leadership and civic education

Africa has developed education systems that propagate a gap between knowing and doing. Our education systems have not been able to push Africans to find lasting solutions to our development challenges. Also, there is inadequate civic and life skills education as a key component of early childhood and high school education.

Focus on a narrow self-identity

Africa is a continent of tribal and racial differences. This should have presented an opportunity for us to leverage these differences to achieve sustainable results. However, as a people we are still battling with the ‘us vs. them’ syndrome that is reinforced by suspicion and mistrust. Our narrow definition of identity defines our existence and choices based on tribe, location and membership of an interest group.

Failure to use the forces of poverty to create opportunity

African citizens exist and live in countries that continue to be plundered and mismanaged. Leaders continue to poorly utilise resources. This reflects in high levels of poverty and hardship. Every day Africans struggle to improve their personal economies. Bob Marley famously said, “In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty”. This phrase resonates in Africa. Marley, among others, described this as a state of mental slavery that has prevented responsive actions to tackle poverty-related challenges.

Vulnerability to the negative socio-cultural influences of globalisation

For most Africans, globalisation came like a thief in the night. We did not understand the implications of a more connected world and our place within it. All of a sudden we became members of the globalised economy and its attendant socio-cultural influences. Key aspects of these influences include the transfer of conflicting culture that has negatively influenced the behaviour of many young Africans.

Promotion of an environment that idolizes corruption at the expense of integrity

Corruption is Africa’s most challenging menace. It continues to devour the institutional base of Africa. Unfortunately, actions and inactions from leadership have given the impression that corruption is encouraged and even rewarded. People in responsible positions loot state coffers and get away with these actions. Businesspersons dupe thousands of people and they are given a slap on the wrist. The will to deal with corruption and its negative implications is not encouraging.

Growing monster of vested political and economic interests

There is an urgent need for Africans to overcome the power of vested interest. There have been numerous instances in all major sectors across the continent where vested interest took precedence over public interest. This kind of behaviour involves individual’s engaging in an undertaken in an expectation of a financial gain. Usually this gain is at variance with law and renders thousands of people even poorer.

What can we do to influence the future of leadership in Africa?

The future of leadership in Africa rests on a holistic approach to strengthening the capacity of the next generation. This approach should integrate strengthening leadership thinking, character, competence and effective management of socio-political influences.

In response to this challenge, my colleagues and I at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) have invested our time and resources to support and nurture young African leaders to enable them reach their full potential. Through the Next Generation Leadership Programme, young West africans are given the opportunity to experience a 6-month experiential based internship, a specialized training and mentoring targeted at the middle level practitioners and a research fellowship for young researcher’s. This programme has attracted the attention of donors such as the Ford Foundation and Rockdale Foundation who currently contribute to its functioning.

The program facilitates a deeper understanding of leadership issues and challenges within civil society and equips the next generation of civic leaders to make a greater impact in their communities. The programme seeks to contribute substantially to Africa’s transformation and commit a young leaders to finding lasting solutions to Africa’s developmental challenges.

WACSI is excited about the future of this programme is eagerly looking forward to scaling its influence and impact through multi-sectoral partnerships and collaborations. We invite you to join us in this journey of transformation.

First published on: http://www.wacsi.org/en/site/blog/2455/Why-Conventional-Leadership-Training-will-not-Work-in-Africa-leadership-Africa-relationships--socio-economic-governments-organisations-conventional-leadership-influences-strategies-civic-education-self-identity-globalisation-Ford-Foundation-paradigm-shift--developmental-capacity-building.htm