Zambia’s past and current negative leadership

Zambia today is confronted by immense challenges. More than 60% of our people are living below the poverty line, which means they lack basic human needs.

This is a shame and an aberration on the leadership of this country of great wealth potential. Why are we in this position of despondency after a bright start in 1964? The answer is leadership. Our country has suffered from negative leadership.

Eugene Habecker, a Christian writer, in his book “Rediscovering the Soul of Leadership” made a great observation about leadership, he said: ‘it can be positive or negative; it can be slanted toward God’s divine purpose or in another direction. It is leadership just the same.’ He goes on to identify four characteristics of a negative leader based on Chapter 34 of the Book of Ezekiel in the Holy Bible.

These characteristics of a negative leader are:

1. Selfish Ambition: The leaders’ priority of taking care of themselves and their own needs rather than expressing care to and taking care of their people.

2. Lack of Caring: The verses quoted in Ezekiel point to the need for a leader to be caring for the ‘flock’ (people), such as, strengthening the weak, healing the sick, and binding up the injured and bringing back the stray flock.

3. Brutality: According to the Bible, leaders are instructed to lead with a quality of gentleness and not cruelty. This means ensuring the rule of law and not imprisoning or denying bail to people who are innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law.

4. Inability to Unify: Negative leadership has consequences for the nation. Because of negative leadership the flock wanders and becomes separated as we have increasingly become in Zambia. Political leaders are appealing to the masses based on tribal allegiance. Major leadership positions today are allocated Based on blood relationships or long time friendship.

From the above characteristics outlined, it can be concluded that Zambia has suffered negative leadership at varying stages of our country’s history. Leadership can never be divorced from the individual. And as a leader, you cannot impart what you do not possess. This is why “the main ingredient of good leadership is character”. Yet in the face of these issues and the apparent need for more capable leaders, there seems to be less effective leadership in our nation than ever before.  Even more alarming is the fact that much of our society apparently does not want to lead; most people prefer to sit on the side-lines and not get involved—not take risks; they are comfortable being followers even though the leaders they follow may take them into a deep pit!

Warren Bennis wrote that, “managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing”. A strong person can be good or bad. A gang leader is an example of a strong person with a bad character, while an outstanding community leader is one with both strong and good characteristics. An organization needs leaders with both strong and good characteristics, people who will guide them to the future and show that they can be trusted.

Another great leader John F. Kennedy put it concisely: “Courage — not complacency — is our need today. Leadership not salesmanship”. In Zambia today we have a lot of salesmen leaders making all sorts of promises as the elections approach. However, to be an effective leader, your followers must have trust in you and they need to be sold on your vision. Leaders do not command excellence, they build excellence. Excellence is “being all you can be” within the bounds of doing what is right for your particular party. To reach excellence you must first be a leader of good character. You must do everything you are supposed to do. “The main ingredient of good leadership is good character. This is because leadership involves conduct and conduct is determined by values.” – General Norman Schwarzkopf. So even though some politicians in Zambia would like us to forget their past history, characters and behaviours, it is important that the people are not hoodwinked by such as there is plenty of history and archives that can be checked to see how their characters have evolved over the years.

Whilst many place value in titles and positions, it is behaviour that wins people’s trust and respect. One of the foundational leadership principles is that leaders need to model the behaviours and attitudes which they expect from others. The example set by leaders is most powerful when grounded in values and when leaders live their values in their own authentic manner. When it comes to values they are most effectively demonstrated by your behaviour, words count, but not nearly as much as your deeds.

Good leaders lead from the front. They take the initiative to go first. People follow a person, before they buy into a strategy and plan. People need more than grand idea. They need to see the idea lived in the flesh. Faced with unprecedented demands to respond effectively and appropriately to their escalating roles and responsibilities, Zambia has an urgent need for leaders who can inspire people, help shape them morally, and spur them on to purposeful action. It is time for Zambians to step up to the stage and provide credible effective values based leadership and stop this drift to anarchy and mediocrity in Zambian politics.

We should all remember that Leadership involves the mobilization, orchestration and consolidation of public mindedness for common purposes. A dishonest President forfeits the assumption of public trust that underlies social capital. A President, whose positions do not reflect his convictions, leaves us wondering which, if either, we should credit. And a President whose political self-interest can be counted on to supersede his public mindedness raises the question of whether we are being enlisted for his, or our, purposes. These large issues are critical for people to think about and determine for themselves come the elections this year. We hope to provide a platform for discussing these issues through the National Leadership Development Trust – Africa and also through the LEAD NOW! Mentorship programme.


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