Barren hunt for transformative leadership


Calls for transformative leadership are growing louder and louder. Some calls perpetuate a misconception that for economic transformation to take place, there is need to have a reformist or change champion at State House.
Such calls ignore the fact that transformative leadership successfully manifests itself as a collective effort. Many people tend to overlook the fact that transformation is a product of joint efforts by the leaders and the followers.
A football or netball team can hire a world-class coach but if the players are weaklings or do not cooperate with their coach, the results will be disastrous.
When author James McGregor Burns introduced the concept of transformational leadership in his 1978 book, Leadership, he defined it as a process where “leaders and their followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.”
Unfortunately, we usually think that only the leader is responsible for economic transformation. Such a belief is completely misplaced, according to Burns who created the concept of transformational leadership which many talk about without understanding its tenets.
Another leadership guru, Robert Kelley went on to distinguish followers in terms of their behaviour and personality attributes. According to Kelley, five basic styles of followers are: the sheep, the-yes people, the alienated, the pragmatics, and the star followers. Each of this category “exhibits a different degree of independent thinking and organizational engagement and differs in their motivations.”
In his classification, Kelly said the sheep are passive in their thinking and engagement and are motivated by their leader rather than themselves. The yes-people also allow their leaders to do most of the thinking and acting for them but are generally positive and are always on the leader’s side.
The third category is that of the alienated followers. These are predominantly negative but think more independently. They think for themselves but do not contribute to the positive direction of the organisation. The alienated followers are quick to criticise without offering constructive solutions to prevailing problems.
“Boma ili lalephera! Mabwana akulephera kuyendetsa kampani.” These are the usual statements from the alienated followers who are quick to criticise everyone without offering alternative solutions.
Pragmatic followers on the other hand “exhibit a minimal level of independent thinking and engagement as they are more willing to exert energy and get involved when they see where the direction of the situation is headed.” The pragmatics enjoys maintaining the status quo.
The final group of followers is called the stars. They think for themselves, have positive energy, and are actively engaged. When things are okay, they support their leader and when things are going wrong, they challenge their leaders.
What am I twisting here?
We should not just focus on calling for transformative leadership without pressing for transformative followership.
Here is a case in point. The past seven months were extremely hard for us because of power outages, which resulted from low water levels in Shire River and the rehabilitation and upgrades of our hydro power stations.
Our reactions to the problem of erratic power supply were diverse.
Some reacted by investing in alternative sources of energy and moved on with their business as usual albeit at high costs.
The barber in my village never closed shop. He just bought solar equipment and continued running his business as usual. Call it transformative thinking and innovation at work.
Amidst the load-shedding, other businesses reacted by only operating when power was available. That was the choice they made.
Another group reacted by criticising those in authority. As far as they were concerned, the problem meant one thing. Failed leadership! Statements such as “blackouts are a result of leadership failure,” were plenty.
Freedom of expression and demand for accountability were in practice. It was important that people expressed their views freely on the problem. The criticisms kept the authorities on their toes as they devised solutions to the problem. Results of the pressure came. Gensets hired. Coal-power plant in progress. Solar-power plant schemed. Hydro-power plants upgraded. Power-interconnection project approved.
Thumbs up to those who were pressuring authorities while running their businesses using alternative sources of power but thumbs down to all noise makers who could not buy a K2000 solar lamp or small genset at K30,000.
If authorities deserve to be called failures for their failure to invest millions of dollars in power generation, we also deserve to be called failures for failing to invest K5,000 to buy solar lamps or K30,000 to buy small petrol generators for use at our small businesses.
If you are an alienated follower and you are searching for a transformative leader, you are engaged in a barren hunt. Meaningful transformation starts with ourselves!

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