Ghana in search of a transformational leader

Sun, 22 Jun 2014 Source: Ohemeng, Yaw

As the NPP flagbearer race gathers steam, the potential candidates are granting interviews and making claims about the strengths they are bringing to the impending contest. I am particularly fascinated by the claims of some to visionary leadership qualities because this is a topic that has engaged my attention of late.

In a recent Graphic Online report one of the contestants, when expressing his views on the Ghanaian economy, claimed that with him as President Ghana would not be the same. He believed that sorting the economy out is all about leadership. The same contestant, in a campaign release, also observed that Ghana needs a transformational leader and that he has the vision to be such a leader.

Few will argue with the proposition that Ghana needs a transformational leader. At the moment, though, these claims by the various contestants are mere words. They have more to show before anyone can judge them one way or the other.

Without dwelling further on the NPP race, what actually is transformational leadership? Transformational leaders operate along two dimensions – through institutions and through their leadership styles. Institutions are simply the prevailing rules of the game in every country – it encompasses all the establishments, laws, rules, regulations and norms through which political and economic power is distributed. A country can have a Leader-President (with a transformational style) operating with existing institutions or a Manager-President (with a transactional style) operating with existing institutions. The former achieves more than the latter. Yet a country can have a leap in progress when it is led by a Leader-President who at the same time also transforms existing institutions.

Thus as a first consideration, those claiming to have the potential to offer transformational leadership should signal that they are not going to accept the status quo. That is they should state and demonstrate clearly that they will no more accept the existing institutions that have failed to deliver. If they want to be taken seriously this is the time for them to start presenting the innovative ways in which they are going to change the current delivery systems to achieve continuous and ever improving results.

Most presidential aspirants usually make the wrong assumption that they only have to win the contest in their parties and that all will fall into place. Thus they come to power ill-prepared for the role. If all that is required to be President is to win party nominations, win the majority of national votes and hope all will be well, then not a lot would change. Aspiring candidates have to be clear in their minds whether they are going to conduct government business as usual or challenge the existing institutions with its prevailing assumptions and settled views.

Existing national institutions (both political and economic) usually have evolved to benefit a particular section of society. It can be a narrow interest section or a broad one. Where political and economic power is in the hands of a narrow section, the institutions are usually corrupt and the way they operate is usually opaque and inefficient. A transformational leader has to be prepared to upset this narrow yet powerful group; at times even standing up to his own political party. This happened in Brazil under Lula da Silva when his party even broke away from him and fielded a separate candidate to contest him when he was seeking re-election.

The other dimension of transformational leadership is the personal leadership style a potential President intends to bring to the job. A leader can have a vision alright but, if he has not got a dedicated and committed followership; if he is not hands on; if he is not emotionally and contextually intelligent; he will never turn out to be a transformational leader.

It is not for one to claim that he has transformational leadership qualities; how you have led your life often says more about this than what you can say. There is a saying that ‘what you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say’. The claims should be left to observers. It should be noted that the reason why the cream always rises to the top is not because it is put there but by its nature.

Transformational leadership usually emerges from those who have fought causes throughout their life and are eager to make a favourable change. Such leaders are bound to come to the job with a clear view of what they want to achieve and a burning desire and passion to achieve them. They do not see obstacles but only a future full of exciting prospects and possibilities. Such people usually seek no personal rewards but derive joy from seeing their actions bring positive changes in the life of others.

Who then is a leader? A leader is one who can direct and influence the behaviour and actions of others to achieve common goals. This means that to succeed as a leader you have to possess the capability to influence others, and in the case of a country’s president, these ‘others’ have to constitute a critical mass.

A President usually has two means of exercising influence – through coercion or inducement (i.e. through rewards and penalties). Relying on these two only makes the president more of a transactional or Manager-President; he will for most times struggle to obtain the critical mass he needs to influence to bring about transformational change.

There is yet a third way in which a leader can influence others – this is by attraction through the use of emotional intelligence or what some call ‘soft power’. Transformational leaders usually attract followers because they are able to connect emotionally with people. For them their very existence exercises people’s emotions in that a large number of people love them with passion and zeal.

For a leader to be able to attract people, he has to be genuine, authentic and trustworthy. He does not have to pretend to be someone he is not. People ought to see a convergence between what he says and what he does. If what he says does not match how he has led his life, people see through him very easily. He does not therefore attract genuine followers; only those who are there to extract from him and the system. These are your familiar sycophants.

Transformational leaders know how to speak to people on an emotional level. This is not only through verbal communications but through their entire disposition. Such leaders provide identity to the organisations they lead and their identities are often inseparable from that of their organisations. To achieve this for a country, you have to make an emotional case (not a superficial one) for why people have to follow you as a leader.

There was this message that Liverpool fans were holding up to the team towards the back end of the last football season in England when it dawned on them that the team could win the premiership. It simply said ‘make us dream’. This is exactly what is required of a transformational leader: you have to make your people dream of what the future could be. Part of this is based on your vision for the country and how realistic it is; how much passion you show pursuant to that vision; and how much you can convince people that it is the right way to go and that it is achievable.

Finally Transformational leaders are contextually intelligent. They know who their allies are in the changes they want to bring about and who are likely to resist. They know how to energise their allies and also how to either co-opt or make ineffective those who are likely to resist.

Anyone offering himself as a transformational President for Ghana should be aware of the times we are in. Ghana is in an economic crisis, there is massive youth unemployment and wanton corruption has become the order of the day. The transformational President that we need in Ghana has to be prepared to take on entrenched behaviours and actors. He must be prepared to risk becoming unpopular and even accept that he may not get re-elected. Thus those tying up their boots to contest must ask themselves whether they have the inner strength, character, discipline and perseverance to keep going no matter the consequences.

I end by quoting from one of my contributions to a recent discussion on political leadership:

“Every political endeavour should be concerned with how to empower the citizens to provide for themselves. This implies removing obstacles in their way and enhancing their capabilities. When these (called enabling) happen, the economy grows, the health of the people improves and there is more money to provide public goods.”

My ‘friend’ Lt. Col. Larry Gbevlo-Lartey puts it even more beautifully in military language thus: ‘Shaping the battlefield: from vulnerability to resilience.”

To me this is what a transformational President of Ghana should do – empower the citizens both politically and economically so that they are able to solve their own problems without recourse to the state. To become such a president, all the qualities I have discussed above have to come together for you.

I am not the one to judge whether any of those with presidential ambitions have these qualities. However, since the electorate can only choose from those presented to them, I can only appeal to those nursing presidential ambitions to do critical self-assessment. For the sake of Ghana and the unborn generations, do not put yourself up if you are not a leader. Ghana can do without Manager-Presidents at this critical juncture.

Dr Yaw Ohemeng

Columnist: Ohemeng, Yaw