I can only answer the question “What am I to do?” if I can answer the prior question “Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?” [Philosopher Alasdair McIntryre]…The questions “What am I to do?” and “Of what story am I a part?” capture the essence of leadership—to take action, which may exceed one’s authority, in the face of doubt. However, these questions miss the essence of leadership because they focus on the individual. Leaders ask and answer, “What are we to do?” Effective leadership asks implicitly or explicitly, “Of what story are we a part?”
Richard Couto, 2004, Encyclopedia of leadership
Richard Couto’s words struck a chord with me. On the day I first read these words I was researching and writing a conference paper on African Leadership Narratives. When the call for abstract submissions for the said conference had floated into my inbox, I’d read it with some interest and then filed it to come back to. I promptly forgot about it and when I recalled that I might have been interested in making a submission, I had missed the deadline. Suddenly, I realized I really, actually, wanted to submit an abstract. It was the 3rd bi-annual Kwame Nkrumah Conference, which happened to be taking place in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, just about an hour from where I live. There was a long list of topics for possible submissions centred in and around issues of African development, including our resource abundance and development scarcity, the colonial history, the state of pan-Africanism, the question of our failed leadership, roles of the Diasporas, Brain Drain and Gain …This list felt like every dinner conversation, every newscast and every “why Africa’s situation is hopeless” interaction I’d been in. It was the necessary, guttural, painfully raw story, documenting why we, Africa and Africans, are in the more difficult situations we find ourselves today. It is a Lament Narrative, needed to grieve losses and facilitate healing. But Lament Narratives to the exclusive of hope and action stifles and suffocates progress and inadvertently reinforcing a narrative that we are powerless against the ocean of despair we face, filled with all these strenuous factors. We were telling and retelling the story we are a part of without asking: What are we to do? As I looked at the list I realized I had something to say and contribute. It was not on the list and I was late, but I took a chance and sent in my abstract for a paper and presentation titled African Leadership: Now and for the Future, to be in the Conference Track: African development: Resource curse or leadership curse?
My research showed that where this leadership change is happening, it’s based on:
We – Collective accountable leaders, taking unified action.
Will – The leadership WILL, grit and courage to do something, anything, now and for the future i.e. action-oriented and aspirational leadership.
Lead – Everyday leaders, motivated by collective service, in every sector, including emerging leaders from marginalized groups.
Africa – A focus on a prosperous continent, where divides are bridged and leaders work across boundaries and borders to achieve a broader success.
And for those of you thinking it, yes, these rumblings, these isolated narratives feel like drops in the vast oceans of our needs right now. But that is exactly why we must hear them some more, share them some more and disrupt the status quo narratives some more. Remember that saying? Little drops of water, make a mighty ocean. We Will Lead Africa is one way to start collecting the drops, to build networks, to share ideas and to further precipitate the en-mass leadership change already happening for Africa.
Everyone who draws breath “takes the lead” many times a day. We lead with actions that range from a smile to a frown; with words that range from blessings to curse; with decisions that range from faithful to fearful…when I resist thinking of myself as a leader, it is neither because of the modesty nor a clear-eyed look at the reality of my life…I am responsible for my impact on the world whether I acknowledge it or not.
Spread the word, Share/encourage others to share stories of work making a difference in/for Africa