“Sometimes you must lead; sometimes be the first to follow, but regardless; you have to explore convention and embrace invention”.
“Don’t let yourself down!
Don’t let your community down!”
These words stirred a lot of feelings and made me remember why I was in that Regional Center in the first place. I have always applied for opportunities but always paused to select those that are fully-funded and those that will transition me. Being selected as a YALI finalist was beyond my expectations; I was there for a reason and as I cleared my mind from all that excitement, those new friends, that hive of network- I forgot that I almost stumbled on my clear set of purpose of being there.
With so many brilliant people like me who are ready to take this continent to the next level where our offspring’s will hear about poverty and corruption just in their books. Yes, it is a dream and we are allowed to own our dreams but it is a dream that we as leaders can achieve collectively. It is a dream that can come true if we take the magic, hidden door- if we tear everything around our boxes-if we learn to fly.
It was on the 3rd of March, 2017 and we were all seated in the main room waiting to be addressed by Mr. Mark McCord. We, referring to the cohort 15 team, leaders and achievers from 14 different Africa countries. It was not the first time that we were addressed by the author of ‘Intersections’, a figure to be emulated by all; I call him’ the face of YALI RLC’. The first time he talked to us was during the orientation and he shared with us ‘the 5 things that he learnt on his way to being old’.
I will just highlight them without explanations because they do not form the basis of my today’s theme.
- Walk through the open doors.
- Learn from those around you.
- Keep your eye on the purpose.
- Own your decisions.
- Change the way you think.
And he began asking us, “Are leaders born or made?” When I trace back to the escapists, I know they would say that leaders are born, because most of the times, these people tend to shift everything that happens to them to another person or to a certain circumstance. For instance; if the government doesn’t provide enough social amenities, they won’t see that as an opportunity to solve their loophole. They will rant ‘But they was born to take care of us, it is their responsibility’ and such people sleep each night complacently having ‘transferred’ their problems to someone else-afraid of being the steering wheel of their own lives.
Leaders are made. There is no doubt about that. And these leaders are made through seeing things in a different angle, seeing hope where there is darkness and seeing rainbows where others see dearth and mishaps. These leaders are made by tearing their boxes. You enjoy being in that comfort zone- your peace, your sleep, your happiness. That zone is usually very satisfying since it keeps you away from trouble and away from anything closer to audacity and valor. That zone is your greatest antagonist and if you don’t learn to tear that box away, you can never change anything within you; but most importantly, you can never change your outlook towards Africa, your communities, your people. Today as you embark on your leadership journey, remember that leaders learn to paint outside the lines. Leaders do not take the safest routes -leaders go for the most exploratory routes.
As a leader, you have to value more than one answer. Those longshot ideas that a colleague brings forth, those millions of ideas that flow inside your head each single crack of dawn, embrace them all. Build on them- no one started perfectly. If Colonel Sanders had committed suicide that dreadful night when he felt he was just insignificant, we would not have had the world known fast-food chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) today, if Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey or even Thomas Edison had relied on that first answer that slapped them hard on their faces, would they have been up-and-coming?
This is the right time to reconsider about some of the decisions you want to make. Or what you perceive as success. What does success mean to you? Is success glamour and power? Is success so material that it stands for Gucci and Max? Is success about values and inner beauty? What legacy do you want to leave behind? Who are your followers? Do you stand out on a crowd or are you mistaken as part of the mass? Who are you? And why are you where you are today?
There are various types of leaders but I will share one category. The transformational leader- he is the leader that listens to the music in his heart and navigates the rapids of his imagination. He is that leader that you may never forget all your life because he made you feel so good about yourself and he is an architecture of modification, a transformer, a change maker. He is the leader that believes that magic exists when he serves and empowers and when he gets followers who believe in him and his capabilities to steer development.
I have mentioned that a leader has to embrace innovation, has to notice the beauty in that negative space. But how do you promote creativity? As a leader, you can promote creativity by:
- Being a sculptor- a sculptor has the ability to convert clay into an object of art.
- Being an explorer- an explore surveys all daring options.
- Being an innovator- an innovator sets the trend, he creates what no other head has thought of before.
- Being an inspirer- a leader remembers to inspire before he expires.
- Tearing up the box- do you see that path outside your box? That is where the magic happens.
- Using both sides of the brain- a leader turns his/her brain into bilateral mode.
By God, what shall happen when you find that magic, hidden door?