Leaders make a huge difference in people’s lives. The task of cultivating the emerging generation of African storycentric leaders is therefore crucial. Communities that are influenced most through stories, images, drama and song need leaders who are not shackled by the kind of unhealthy leadership models that use people to amass power for the leader’s success. Instead, they need leaders who engender trust as they value and build those they lead.
We regularly ask participants in our workshops throughout Africa to identify the leader who has influenced their lives most. Our goal for this exercise is twofold: we hope they will discover for themselves what it takes to have an influence on others; and we want them to discover that within each of them lies the power to make a difference.
Virtually everyone we have asked has been able to name at least one leader whose influence they have personally felt. On the rare occasion, it’s a well-known figure—perhaps someone from the past who changed the course of their nation’s history. Or it may be a contemporary role model who serves as an example of effective leadership—a corporate head or athlete, for instance. Most often, however, it’s a leader who is personally close to them—a parent, friend, pastor, teacher or coach. The person is neither famous nor incredibly successful by conventional standards, but his or her influence on the participant is unmistakable. Such examples accentuate the truth that ordinary leaders are having an extraordinary impact.
This simple exercise spotlights African leaders whose skills, styles and contexts may vary widely, but who consistently display unusual character in the trenches of everyday living. When faced with tough choices, they often lead with a long-view perspective. They are motivated to invest in others with unyielding faith in a better future. They are women and men of notable virtue—not because they are perfect, but because they are unwavering in their commitment to live and lead biblically. Without exception, these leaders give of themselves to see others rise to their highest potential. And they do so without expecting the favour in return. Rather, they urge those they bless to pass on the blessing to another generation.
These storycentric leaders debunk the destructive myth that leadership is reserved for only an elite few. They demonstrate that leadership is not a position, a special gene or a secret code. They dispel the notion that the only real leaders are the ones with the capital L at the top of the ladder or the ones with multiple diplomas. They dismiss the false perception that only the lucky ones can ever understand and apply the intricacies of effective leadership.
So let’s dispel the myth. Rather than viewing leadership as a mystical mantle that we either have or don’t have, let’s begin to invest our time and energy into men and women with the belief that they can and will develop to become effective, faithful leaders.
The call for leadership development throughout Africa is an urgent one, but despite the urgency, it is important to remember that developing leaders takes time. It takes time to dig beneath the symptoms to under?stand the core challenges that a rising leader faces. Because developing a leader takes time, we need to begin now.
A brigade of ordinary leaders in storycentric communities is poised to become extraordinary servants. Nobody said it would be easy; their quest for excellence may always seem to be just over the horizon. But it is attainable with concentrated effort. These emerging African leaders will need to keep growing. They’ll have to hone skills that are specific to their role. And learning to develop their organizations in healthy ways is a must. With sufficient desire and motivation, solid training and caring mentoring, they can develop the thinking, values and skills necessary to lead their continent into a bright future.
Africans are living in the most exciting era of their long and storied history. Unprecedented opportunities abound despite opposing social, cultural and spiritual forces. Storycentric learners make up a majority of their people and leaders. So let’s not lose another moment to start raising up leaders, equipping and empowering them to lead their storycentric generation into its highest potential.
- 1. Kendall Haven, Story Proof: The Science Behind the Starting Power of Story (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2007).
- 2. John Harlow, “Gutenberg, Man of the Millennium,” Time Magazine 154 (1999): 14.
- 3. Jain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010).
- 4. Mike Metzger, Doggie Head Tilt Blog. Retrieved from http://www. doggieheadtilt.com
- 5. McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary.
- 6. Marshall McLuhan, E. McLuhan, and F. Zingrone, Essential McLuhan (New York: Basic Books, 1995).
- 7. Conversation with Kwotua in Accra, Ghana in the Fall of 2009.
- 8. W. Hamilton, Phaedrus and the Seventh and Eighth Letters (Hammondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1973).
- 9. Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1993).