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Mr President: dare to be a great leader in 2016

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Time flies. It really does.

In a matter of weeks some 16 million souls, minds and bodies will be agog in celebration of Christmas and New Year 2016.

For Malawians the 18 months since June 2014 are a mixed bag of tantalising fortunes, promises and dreadful misfortunes; times of cautious hope in the face of debilitating despondency.

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There has been peace, breached peace and nervous peace; anger and counter-anger. Sadly, ‘not yet clear where we are going’ is the widespread assessment. These 18 months not exactly a tidy stretch of valuable time!

To quote Ralph Emerson, “our chief wait is for someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be”. Whether or not Malawians are inspired is a political question. I am not a politician—yet.

This is where we start our search for attributes of a great leader.

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You see, Mr. President, inspiring nations is a formidable attribute of great leaders. In the words of Ronald Reagan the greatest leader is not necessarily one who does the greatest things but one who gets the people to do the greatest things.

Far too many leaders waste time trying to muster and communicate authority. Well, that’s not what people seek of leaders. People want a leader to communicate warmth, humility and trustworthiness

Leaders should grow the people and not dwarf them by vain political power. The wise note that before one becomes a leader success is all about growing oneself, but when one becomes a leader success is all about growing others. This is serious transition.

Great leaders like Sir Winston Churchill worked hard to improve the working of the Cabinet, to influence the quality of Parliament and to inspire all citizens – even in heat of a crippling seven-year war.

And these things great leaders do not through power but through the influence of solid personality. The truth is that all men having political power ‘ought to be mistrusted’, James Madison concludes; even where things are going well, I dare add!

Great leaders achieve mastery over public systems and initiate change. I believe it was Woodrow Wilson who said ‘if you want to make enemies try to change something’ but change things you must, Mr President, because that’s what Malawians are waiting for.

Great leaders beat new paths not follow where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail, advises Harold McAlison. More of the same will not develop Malawi.

Great leaders will achieve a great deal but without expecting to be hero-worshipped. After all, that’s what they are paid to do. It’s amazing how much a committed leader can achieve if they do not care who gets the credit for it.

Mr President, situations change leadership and great leadership adapts to times of crisis. It was war that turned Churchill into a great leader and that’s because his leadership adapted and responded with exceptional gallantry.

Events of the past two years have been dominated by massive theft of public resources. That image remains and it will influence public emotions for very long.

Your see, Mr President, corruption is ruining the land. For too long crooks in politicians’ garb have betrayed Malawians, stealing at will and treating people like fools without recourse. If you must know, people are tired of hearing promises that won’t be kept, but I don’t doubt you will keep yours.

This is why Malawians are screaming over the use of money in government. What they see is a serious misalignment with the state of the economy.

Learning from John Galbraith, all great leaders have the one characteristic of willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxieties of their people in their time. This – and not much else – is the essence of great leadership.

And of course let the people speak their minds.

Great leaders fear not free expression of public concerns, even angry demonstrations. Criticism of acts of government should be encouraged to a point of routine; then it becomes part of democracy. That is a mark of great leadership.

Mr President, great leaders can flare up in anger, but work on being calm at all times. Read the mood of the nation; educate and monitor your own emotions. Great leaders do not need to act tough. Their cool confidence is steel enough.

Do learn from Mandela. When Oprah Winfrey visited, “being in his presence was like sitting with grace and majesty at the same time”. Not that Mandela was beyond anger, only that he developed the emotional intelligence to deal with it.

Mr President, lost cool betrays a lot. Having to explain what should not have been done or said in the first place is losing moral ground. Ronald Reagan puts it simply: if you are explaining you are losing. Avoid it.

To be a great leader, treat all people with respect at all times, says Simon Sinek for you never know when you’ll need their help. To Pat Williams, great leaders view people as the bottom line not tools to get to the bottom line. Put differently, thou shall not exploit!

I like the characteristic General Colin Powell identifies with great leaders: they are almost always great simplifiers, cutting through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution that everybody can understand. That is the heart and the mind working in combination.

How about the place of courage?

John McCain proposes that a real leader faces the music even if they don’t like the tune. Courage enforces the virtues of exceptional leaders: honesty, integrity, confidence, compassion and humility.

Even in a democracy over-consulting is costly and inefficient. Consensus is the negation of leadership to Margaret Thatcher’s verdict and leadership need not always wear the harness of compromise, observes Woodrow Wilson.

Admittedly leadership is challenge. According to John Rohmit it is hard to be strong but not rude; kind but not weak; bold but not bully; thoughtful but not lazy; humble but not timid; proud but not arrogant; have humour but without folly

Mr President, Malawi in hardship needs a strong, patient and credible leader, not a facilitator. This is my advice.

Till then, be a leader of good cheer, Mr President

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