To lead is to serve; to serve is to sacrifice

Leadership-abstract-007One of the most profound quotes I got from the boxing legend, Muhammad Ali, is the one he gave in 1978 in a Time magazine interview. According to him, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”. How many of us pay our rent?

Serving others is undoubtedly a fundamental attribute of leadership and this is what good education should instill. Leadership is all about service and selfless service is sacrifice, which the seventh letter of the word leadership, “S”, symbolises. What therefore is sacrifice? It is giving something desired up for something more desirable and beneficial.

According to author Khuram Murad, “Sacrifice is the stuff of which good and successful ordinary human lives are made. Without it, life will be devoid of peace, harmony and cooperation, full of conflict and discord, a prey to self-centredness, covetousness and immediate gratification of desires. Moreover, neither families nor communities can exist or achieve cohesiveness and strength without some sacrifice on the part of their members. Also, no human endeavor can succeed in reaching its goal unless one sacrifices things valued and desired.”

True leaders are embodiments of sacrifice as they are impassioned by the desire to offer more to their followers. They sacrifice their money, their property, their time, their knowledge, their comfort, their skills, their family and even their life, if need be, for the sake of their followers. Nothing is too much when it comes to serving and sacrificing for their people.

The bane of leadership in our country is that instead of selfless service that sacrifice engenders, our leaders engage in self-service. They serve for their long throats, bottom-less pockets and parochial interests. For them, leadership is about dichotomy: “we” versus “them”.

A good theory of leadership is the one propounded by the Prophet, Muhammad (Peace be upon him), when he said, “the leader of a people is their servant.” He lived it by being a servant leader to the core – a leader who served his people conscientiously.

The concept of servant leadership has been developed in contemporary times by Robert Greenleaf and his followers like Larry Spears, John Barbuto and Daniel Wheeler. Based on Greenleaf’s ideas, eleven characteristics of servant leadership are identifiable. These characteristics were shared by the highly-acclaimed and resourceful former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. Is-haq O. Oloyede, on July 15, 2010 in an address he called “No Condition Is Permanent” delivered to the University of Ilorin Student Union leaders. The points are adapted thus:

  1. Calling: A servant leader is called. If you are not called, don’t lead so as not to mislead. That politics is deemed a big business into which one must go uncalled to have a slice of the big bazaar is the crisis of leadership in Nigeria.
  2. Listening: A servant leader is an excellent listener. He listens to advice and follows his instincts, which are also developed by listening. Do our leaders even have ears?
  3. Empathy: A servant leader feels for others and puts himself in their shoes; he is considerate. But do our leaders give a damn about our people’s pains and suffering?
  4. Healing: A servant leader provides succour when his followers are stricken by calamity or distress. Ask the families of Chibok girls.
  5. Awareness: A servant leader has a good understanding of his environment. Without being fully aware of one’s situation, one cannot take positive action.
  6. Persuasion: A servant leader is persuasive and his arguments are convincing. He has the “connect” factor and he is easy to “follow” because he is reasonable.
  7. Conceptualisation: A servant leader makes people to think big by conceiving possibilities in them, not impossibilities. He nurtures their creative ability.
  8. Foresight: A servant leader has an uncanny ability to anticipate what may happen. When people think of being good, he thinks of making them great. Being good is not always good enough; being great is better.
  9. Stewardship: This is making a positive difference through self-sacrifice. A steward prepares his country or organisation for the attainment of the greater good.
  10. Growth: A servant leader wants the society or organisation he leads to grow.
  11. Community Building: A servant leader has a strong sense of community and he works hard to foster harmony among the various members, not discord by playing one against the other.

As Nigeria prepares for the elections, who among the contestants fits these attributes most? That’s the leader Nigeria needs as Nigeria Decides.