Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.
“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” These were the words of Nelson Mandela, a man whose personal sacrifice defines true leadership. Mandela’s words assume even greater importance in a tumultuous world in desperate need of real leadership. According to leadership expert Dave Anderson, the reward for leadership is the opportunity to make more sacrifices. An irrefutable sacrifice a leader can make is to sacrifice personal ambitions for the greater good; the willingness and readiness to build, strengthen and elevate institutions above personalities.
The truth is, the average human being has a propensity for selfishness, exaggerating our own importance and building empires where everything revolves around us. Contrariwise is to start defining leadership. True leaders build systems and institutions that allow for processes that are transparent and accountable. They establish a culture of continuity, and develop structures that are bigger than them.
For such leaders, leadership is defined by one word – sacrifice. Their goal is to build and sustain something that will benefit people for generations and they are willing to forsake anything to achieve this.
But the amazing thing is that they gain something much more valuable – perpetual honour. No wonder Jesus said “whoever seeks his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Perhaps you think the personality of Jesus is too high to identify with or emulate. How about Gandhi who said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
This reminds me of Gorbachev, the last president of the defunct Soviet Union who facilitated its transition into a cluster of 15 sovereign states in the late 1980s. The Russians had fought a bloody battle during the Second World War and sacrificed more than any other nation to bring that war to an end. The man at the heart of this was Joseph Stalin. Emerging from that war as a hero, Stalin proceeded to build a Soviet empire, along with the Kremlin, with him at the center of it. Leader after leader of the Soviet Union, from Khrushchev to Brezhnev, followed after Stalin’s leadership style. The result was wars and threats of wars across the globe. But one leader arose who understood the imperative of subjecting personal ambition to the greater good, of building institutions and systems as opposed to personalities. That leader was Mikhail Gorbachev.
Gorbachev instituted the famed policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). He whittled down the ambitions of the Soviet Union, inadvertently breaking it down, and removed the constitutional role of the Communist Party in the governing of the state. Gorbachev put an end to the Cold War and global anxiety. Do you know that the system Gorbachev built left no room for him? But he built it nonetheless, and left the world a better place, sacrificing what could have been his personal empire, for building systems and institutions. This earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 and an enviable place in history.
On the other hand we have leaders today, who unlike Gorbachev are building personal empires to the detriment of building democratic institutions and structures that will last generations. This is the bane of most African countries, where elections and governance are largely about personalities seeking to gain and retain power at all cost.
Or what do you make of the fact that the announcement of the results of the 2011 Nigerian Presidential elections sparked off a series of bombings that have continued unabated till date. The recent bombing at Nyanya and the kidnapping of over 200 teenage girls by members of the Boko Haram sect has held Nigeria in shock and dismay for the past few weeks. The sentiments of the average Nigerian, having witnessed politicians trade blame and insults, is that certain political leaders are responsible for the current crisis. Perhaps this sentiment is better conveyed by Prof. Wole Soyinka who said “Those who unleashed Boko Haram on the nation are politicians. These are the ones behind Boko Haram…”
It would seem that the item on the menu of our leaders is a deadly ‘delicacy’ of greed and naked ambition, sprinkled with a handsome dose of religious fanaticism. I believe it is time for us to have a rethink of our definition of leadership. Of what use is burning down an entire nation? Is it so we can rule over its ashes?
History will never forget the 2000 American elections which was contentious due to what many saw to be electoral flaws. But Al Gore understood the importance of preserving an established system and willingly subjected his own personal ambitions to control. We can find wisdom in the words of John Kerry who said, “The American spirit wears no political label. In service to others and yes, in sacrifice for our country, there are no Republicans; there are no Democrats; there are only Americans.”
This is a direct challenge to Nigeria’s current and aspiring leaders. How would you like to be remembered? As sacrificial leaders who built systems and institutions that improved the lives of people and the lot of generations to come? Or as leaders who destroyed everything because they could not have their way? The depth of every leader’s legacy will be defined by the extent of his or her personal sacrifices to improve the lot of the people. History has a long memory. Nigerians deserve sacrificial leaders who live by a moral code higher than the lure of office. And we will get it, by God’s grace.
Nigeria Has a Great Future!
Pastor Taiwo can be reached at email@example.com