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Values-based Leadership in Nation Building

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IMAGE: Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian Novelist, Poet, Professor, Critic »


Chinua Achebe, notwithstanding that he never won the Nobel Prize for literature, remains, for me, the most significant African writer of the 20th century. The power of his pen sprang not so much from his mastery of traditional folklore or for his simple prose always dipped generously in the fragrance of Ibo proverbs, but more from the visionary essence of his prose and poetry.

Achebe was much more than a writer who loved to manufacture beautiful cadences of words. He was an engaged social critic who constantly summoned his creative muse to help decrypt the puzzle that is his country, Nigeria. And in doing that, Achebe facilitated in no small measure an insightful crystallization and comprehension of the real challenges that confronts Nigeria. This visionary and problem framing attribute of Achebe was most compellingly demonstrated about 30 years ago when he penned his evergreen masterpiece, titled: The Trouble with Nigeria.

The trouble with Nigeria, Achebe remonstrated is leadership. This postulation is as profound and true today as it was about 30 years ago when it was first made. Nonetheless, ever since Achebe made this decisive determination that Nigeria's problem is really one of leadership, efforts have been made at different times by different individuals and institutions to discountenance Achebe's inference and push a new theory that locates Nigeria's problem as mainly that of corruption. 

The problem with these new age theories that attempt to locate corruption as the primary pathology plaguing Nigeria is that it fails to recognize that corruption is actually only an attribute of a valueless leadership. In other words, fix the leadership challenge and you find out that you have also simultaneously addressed the problem of corruption. This brings us back to Achebe's original thesis, which avers that the real trouble with Nigeria is a lack of leadership. Put properly, the real challenge with Nigeria is a dearth of values-based leadership.

The Solution with Nigeria
Interestingly, the solution with Nigeria lies also in integrating, recognising and celebrating a culture of values-based leadership in our institutions, leaders, systems and processes. A dearth of leaders with values of integrity, faith, honor, compassion and duty, etc has opened and continues to expand the floodgates of mindless and brazen corruption at all levels and strata of society. In this sense, corruption is only an outcome of valueless leadership. Corruption is not the main issue. It is only a by-product. Fix the character of leadership and the incidence of corruption will be reduced to a negligible level.

So we can rightly infer that solution with Nigeria invariably lies in the development and enthronement of values-based leaders and values-based leadership in our polity. Men and women whose reference point goes beyond pecuniary concerns; men and women who embrace a higher nobility of purpose and conduct their affairs and provide service with an attitude of integrity, honesty, compassion and godliness that infuses and elevates their thought process, actions and words.    

So what is Values-Based Leadership?
In a world in which ruthless exploitation and competition, self-serving behaviours, instability, treachery, lies, deceit, dishonesty, cheating, stealing of national resources, bootlicking and immoral compromises, etc seem to be the norm rather than the exception and indeed the fastest route to success, values and values-based leadership hold a number of extraordinary promises that any serious nation should embrace. But first what are values and what is values based-leadership?

Values, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “are Principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life.” The Business defines Values as “important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable. Values have major influence on a person's behavior and attitude and serve as broad guidelines in all situations.” 

And Wikipedia states that “values provide an internal reference for what is good, beneficial, important, useful, beautiful, desirable, constructive, etc. Values generate behaviour and help solve common human problems for survival by comparative rankings of value, the results of which provide answers to questions of why people do what they do and in what order they choose to do them. values relate to the norms of a culture, but they are more global and abstract than norms. Norms provide rules for behavior in specific situations, while values identify what should be judged as good or evil. While norms are standards, patterns, rules and guides of expected behavior, values are abstract concepts of what is important and worthwhile.”

Values-based leadership means different things to different people and organisations. Not surprisingly therefore, there are also a ubiquitous array of definitions of the term. But, for the purpose of this article, there are four definitions of the term that distil and clearly illustrate the fundamentals of values-based leadership. Of the four, the fourth definition is the punch line: “Values-based leadership (VBL) is the exercise of influence in relationships, teams, organizations and communities through choices and decisions guided by explicit and consistently practiced values that balance healthy self-interest and the common good”(Royal Roads university Canada).

“The essence of leadership in any polity is the recognition of real need, the uncovering and exploiting of contradictions among values and between values and practice, the realigning of values…The leader’s fundamental act is to induce people to be aware or conscious of what they feel – to feel their true needs so strongly, to define their values so meaningfully, that they can be moved to purposeful action.” (MacGregor Burns, 1978, p. 43). “Values-based leadership is about creating a values-based umbrella large enough to accommodate the various interests of followers, but focused enough to direct their energies in pursuit of a common good. In practical business terms, it's about creating the conditions under which all followers can perform independently and effectively toward a single objective." (O’Toole, 1996, p. xi). "Values-based leadership is leading by example, doing the right thing for the right reasons and not compromising core principles." (Dean, 2008, p. 61).

Why Value-Based Leadership?
Values-based leadership holds the key to unlock the potential of Nigeria; to unleash the latent energies of a slumbering nation; to enthrone the forces of good governance; to engender exemplary leadership and enthrone efficient management of national resources.
Indeed, it will banish the celebration of mediocrity and propagation of dishonest enterprise in our polity; it will leapfrog Nigeria’s progress and development by throwing up men and women who have the leadership capacity that will provide a sense of direction towards achieving national goals as well as harness and effectively oversee the utilization and allocation of scarce national resources for the provision of the basic needs of the citizenry; it will stop the preponderance of rent- seeking-traders, looters and impostors who populate the recesses of power at all levels of our polity and parade themselves as leaders of a free nation; it will give voice to the many who cry for freedom from lack in the land of plenty and give choice to the millions whose stubborn hope for a good Nigerian society refuse to die. 

It will also dramatically change the global and domestic image of Nigeria and Nigerians for the better. It will galvanise the citizenry and generate in them greater enthusiasm and patriotism for the task of nation building; it will midwife a culture of social responsibility and a reputation of integrity, fairness, equity, honesty and reliability, openness, accountability, transparency and trust between the citizenry and those leading them; it will essentially ensure that Nigeria, like the mythical Phoenix, rises from the ashes of self-immolation, reborn and renewed to lead Africa to take its rightful place in this new global order.  

Final Thoughts
The proclivity to celebrate rather than question ill-gotten wealth, fame and status is one of the principal pathologies that erode the foundations of value-based leadership in Nigeria. An unabashed attitude of praise singing and cheering of failed public officials rather than holding them accountable to their mandates makes citizens complicit in frustrating the emergence of values-based leadership.

These pathologies and many others not mentioned here can be easily addressed by refocusing our education system and institutions to begin to focus more on values and ethics. A conscious and deliberate effort made by government, civil society organisations, private sector based entities and citizens today to invest more in the development of values-based future Nigerian leaders is the only practical and effective way of arresting the drift and securing the future of Nigeria.

To move from thought to action in the conceptualisation of a good Nigerian society, there also must be a fundamental recognition and comprehension that the good Nigerian society that is envisaged must be one that is deeply rooted on the foundations of the rule of law. For this to happen, again, we are compelled to accept that a generation of values-based leaders must emerge because the current decay and chaos in the system suits the operators of the status quo.

For the immediate time, Nigeria sorely needs values-based citizens who can stand up and take responsibility for their lives, circumstance and country. The good news is that we can all, in our different capacities as citizens, play a positive role towards the emergence of a good Nigeria society.

Article Credit: Thisdaylive

Updated 4 Years ago

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