I just returned from Namibia where I am overseeing a rural healthcare project for Wharton Global Consulting Practicum. In addition to lots of airplane time to think about this and that, I visited some tribal villages where I heard all about Headmen and tribal politics. The best thing about the trip was that I managed to talk to everyone from the security guards at various places to senior government officials and managers of hospitals, clinics, private healthcare vendors, businesses in general, and the always vocal taxi drivers and bartenders. And a random collection of local people from the most rural villages to the heart of cosmopolitan Windhoek, the capital city.
All these conversations combined with careful ongoing observation and the experiences stored in my head stirred up and shaken around during interminable airplane flights led to several overarching thoughts on leadership.
Leaders oftentimes, especially those who travel greatly, over think globalization and regionalization. Most people live their entire life within a relatively small geography surrounded and interacting with a quite small circle of mostly similar people. Their work life, social life, and political life are really quite local even in this age of instant communication everywhere. To be a truly great global leader you need to always be aware of this and immerse yourself in local cultures.
Everywhere you go you take your biases and expectations with you. A great trap is to base your decisions and predictions on these biases and expectations without noticing that others often don’t share them…not even a little bit. Expecting intentions and actions of others to conform to your expectations leads to all kinds of problems.
Abraham Lincoln once said that “nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Having power seems to have the same character diminishing affect everywhere. It is a rare individual who is able to stand firm against its debilitating effects. Couple power with wealth and the diminishment affect speeds up while the number of those who can resist shrinks just as fast.
Sycophants are the most deadly thing for long term success. The more someone is surrounded by them the worse the decisions and more distant from reality the leader becomes. Living in the rare air of those in high position seems to lead to a bit of dementia where a universe is created based on personal desires and ideologies rather than facts and the thoughts and ideas of the great majority of people breathing ground level air.
The way past the above is to keep a healthy sense of your own fallibility and respect for others, especially those most different from you. Accept that your like or dislike of something may just be a bias based on your upbringing and bear no resemblance to the truth of things. Understand that your way is not always the best way and certainly is not the way many people will choose. Each path is valid for those who follow it. A leader of great skill is able to guide all paths to entwine and form a stronger road that all can follow. A leader who tells a great story and leads by example guides people down this wide road to a bright future they all can believe in.
Oinukumininwa ke shii oule wondjila:
The one being carried does not know the distance of the road