On Saturday June 15th 2019, 120 young high school graduates, university students and young professionals answered present to the call of Enhancing Youth Empowerment for Creative Innovation – EYECI for a conference at the Baptist Primary School hall in Etoug-Ebe, Yaoundé. This blog post is a post-conference report following a panel discussion with myself and leading social entrepreneur, Javnyuy Joybert.
Leadership is such a volatile term with a plethora of definitions without much consensus on a universal definition. Its quasi-absence in our school curricula means many young professionals don’t have such lessons traditionally delivered in their schools in Cameroon. The importance of such skills however cannot be overemphasized as most will be called up either in their academic or professional journey to make hard choices, analyze, manage difficult persons and situations. As a result, many concerned persons have stepped forward to bridge the gap, with the support of other organizations which realize that engaging their members or teams into leadership trainings like this will better prepare them for a professional or academic world, which is continuously changing, becoming more challenging, and requiring a whole new array of skills. Recruiters and employers are gravitating naturally towards employees who aren’t simply fixers, but those with leadership skills, who can withstand the ruthless economic landscape while keeping their calm and being able to influence their collaborators to deliver quality output.
Pillars of Effective Leadership in the Professional world
Effective leadership must be set on strong pillars comprising a lucid “raison d’etre”, a crystal-clear vision for the future, a specific strategy to get to the future, and the right culture to steer towards success. I thus define leadership by 3 words – Vision, Strategy, and Action, with an icing of service.
Mission: This is the reason you exist, or why you were created or why you have set out to do whatever it is that you wish to do. The “raison d’etre.” This is closely tied to the purpose, and thus every effective leader must have a clarity of purpose.
Vision. Vision is a simulation or a virtual imagery of the better future one seeks to achieve whether for their organization, corporate body etc. A great vision should take into consideration especially changes in technology, consumption patterns and future trends. This is important if whatever the leader sets out to accomplish will stand the test of time or have any value in that future.
Strategy: The plans you set out to be competitive, to stay at top or to continue existing which ever holds, depicts your strategy. For a corporate organization, the leader may take a strategy of rapidity for premium over conventional for low cost, or exclusivity over quantity. Either ways, your strategy defines how you meander in a space occupied by your competitors.
Culture: Every organization has a culture, and a set of values which guides how they think and what their core beliefs are. Every act of ethical leadership requires the leader to know, to live and cause others to showcase this culture in their daily operations and actions. In simple terms, our culture is “how we believe and how we behave here.”
Effective leadership Attributes
Leadership attributes like other skills can be learned and improved. What is of utmost importance is the development of self and personal attributes for effective leadership. Practicing leadership is much an art as it is a discipline. You definitely aren’t fit to, or wouldn’t be able to lead others without a sense of discipline and a commitment towards personal development and leading oneself.
Team Building: Effective leaders may not be very knowledgeable about every area of what they’re called to lead. The do however, have a keen eye for what they need. Effective leaders surround themselves with people who are willing to challenge their ideas and who have a better mastery in specific areas and can offer quality counsel. Effective leaders pick out, develop, trust, and challenge their team members. They equally delegate tasks and allow team member to take on challenging situations to help them grow.
Communication: Arguably the most important skill. Effective leaders know the importance of listening and understanding in communication. They know that it is a two-way thing and thus ensure they create communication and feedback channels to themselves.
Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: Leaders regularly are called upon to deal with challenging and, at times, unpleasant situations including but not limited to conflict resolutions, crucial conversations, emotional situations etc… Having a high degree of emotional intelligence will enable the leader to deal with such situations effectively and objectively while not avoiding the underlying issues. It is important to note that emotional intelligence can be developed with practice and coaching. Similarly, an empathic leader who can sense how others feel will be a much more effective communicator and team builder and will be more likely to effectively manage change. Empathy allows the leaders to adequately place themselves in the shoes of other, in view of understanding their plights better and finding the appropriate solutions to handle root causes.
Because organizations are constantly changing, one of the core responsibilities of leaders is steering through internal changes necessary to adapt to changing circumstances. I believe that without initiating change, one is merely managing and not leading. Growth as a leader doesn’t come with stability. It is the wage you get after overcoming a great storm. The ability to effectively institute positive change will stretch and challenge even the best leaders. Such extreme situations only help to refine you. Like an arrow in a hunter’s quiver, the attributes above will help visa you through the change process.
Great organizations require great leaders, and the best organizations understand that cultivating leadership skills should be intentional and not left to chance. However, we should seek to develop our leadership attributes till they simply become a lifestyle and that will be our pinnacle of leadership.