OVERCOMING LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES THROUGH PERSONAL SKILL DEVELOPMENT

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By Joseph Nyanchama

A few months ago, I watched a TV sport documentary that was taken in Southern California called ‘Surviving the waves’. The documentary was based on how schools there offer physical education courses in surfing.

The teacher who was being interviewed defined surfing as the art of riding or catching the waves in the sea. He said if you take a class on surfing, you will be taught everything you need to know about surfing: how to choose the right equipment; how to use it properly; how to recognize a “surfable” wave; how to catch a wave and ride it as long as possible. He finally emphasized by saying that you will never find a course in the school that teaches you “how to build a wave.”

In regard to this, our job as leaders, like experienced surfers is to recognize a wave of seasons and ride it. It is not our responsibility to make and change the seasons but to recognize the forces behind them and join in the endeavor.

Something interesting I noted in the lesson, ‘surfing the waves’ was that watching surfers from the shore makes catching waves look pretty easy. Actually, it is quite difficult and requires great skill and balance. Therefore, catching a leadership wave of growth isn’t easy either. It takes more than desire or even dedication; it takes insight, patience, faith, skill and most of all balance. Leading a growing institution may look easy but it requires a mastery and development of personal skills.

In January 2008, CBS anchor Katie Couric asked former US President Barrack Obama which one book he would take with him to the White House, apart from the Bible. The eventual winner of the presidential election singled out ‘team of rivals’ authored by Doris Goodwin.

The reason why Barrack Obama wanted to read the book- team of rivals was to empower himself by understanding the qualities that made it possible for Abraham Lincoln to bring disgruntled opponents together during the civil war to create the most unusual cabinet in history. He learned some lessons and said that he was ready to confront the economic crisis then and expressed his belief that the United States would weather the storm as it had weathered worse before.

The book empowered him personally and as a result decided to model his leadership on the style of Abraham Lincoln. He reprised Lincoln’s strategy of creating a team comprised of his most able rivals like Hillary Clinton, to be Secretary of State, Joe Biden, as his Vice-President and by including powerful Republicans in his cabinet like Robert Gates and Ray LaHood.

As a leader, the most important question to ask on your leadership position is not, “what am I getting?” instead you should ask, “What am I becoming?” In other words, what you become directly influences what you get. Remember that as a leader if your staff does not have programs for personal skill development, you will face great challenges especially during turbulent times. You employ someone who has worked in different organizations for ten years and you are excited that you have a new catch with a wealth of experience. What you do not realize is that he or she doesn’t have ten years experience. What he or she has is one year experience repeated ten times. He or she hasn’t made a single improvement, a single innovation for nine years.

There has been a hot debate lately in Kenya about scarcity and cost of maize flour. Different opinions have been formed from different quarters on how to make the commodity affordable. In my view the cost of maize flour is not the problem of the Kenyan people. It is not that it costs too much. The problem is that they can’t afford it. Why can’t they afford it?

The answer to this may be got from a situation I found myself in when my car stuck in the mud when I was driving in one of the counties. When my car could not move, I did the easiest thing, blaming the leadership of the county for neglecting the roads. I continued to complain and by this time some boys had gathered around me and one of the boys said some words in Swahili, “Buda barabara si mbaya, wewe ndio una gari ndogo”(the road is not bad, you are the one who has a vehicle with small capacity). These words hit me like thunder breaks.

Why do we point fingers instead of looking within? The ego strives to defend itself. Therefore when we blame outside forces we do not have to face our own weaknesses and failings. This must have been my reason for keeping on complaining without realizing that as much as the road was not in the condition I expected, I needed to work hard also to buy a car of higher capacity that was able to pass through such roads. Similarly, it is the responsibility of the Kenyan leaders to empower the Kenyan people through personal development so that they are able to afford the price of maize flour instead of focusing on its cost.

What you become directly influences what you get because what you have today you have attracted by becoming the leader you are today. In other words, What you become directly influences what you get. Remember that as a leader if your staff does not have programs for personal skill development, you will face great challenges especially during turbulent times.

WHAT YOU BECOME DIRECTLY INFLUENCES WHAT YOU GET. REMEMBER THAT AS A LEADER IF YOUR STAFF DOES NOT HAVE PROGRAMS FOR PERSONAL SKILL DEVELOPMENT, YOU WILL FACE GREAT CHALLENGES ESPECIALLY DURING TURBULENT TIMES.

to have more influence on your people than you have got now, become more than you are. To overcome more challenges, you need to read more, you need to get more information and use it more to your advantage. Do not rely on loyalists who exhibit blind loyalties to please you, seek more yourself.

An illustration of the power of becoming more in order to overcome challenges happened 500 years ago to Christopher Columbus during one of his voyages to the new world. In 1504, Columbus ordered his crew to anchor their ship off the coast of Jamaica. The long voyage had depleted most of the onboard supplies and Columbus men were desperate for fresh food and water. The native Jamaicans however refused to trade and Columbus begged to no avail.

One night, while reviewing his navigator’s almanac, he came across some potentially meaningful information that a lunar eclipse was scheduled to occur within a few days. He arranged a meeting with the Jamaican leaders on the day of the eclipse, and warned them that if they continued to refuse to trade with him, he would have no choice but to use his magical powers to blot out the moon that night. And if they refused to trade with him the following day, he would call on the sun to drop fire on their villages. He did this because he had prior knowledge and wanted to take advantage of their ignorance.

The Jamaicans laughed at him but that night, as the eclipse began, the Jamaicans stared in astonishment as the moon began to disappear. The panic-stricken natives rushed to Columbus, who offered to restore the moon that night under one condition – they must bring fresh supplies to his ship immediately. They complied with Columbus’s offer and gasped in amazement as the moon reappeared, just as Columbus had promised. What do you think would have happened to Columbus if he didn’t continually empower himself by getting information and didn’t do anything with it? No doubt, it would have changed the course of history.

Professor Jean Pierre Lahman said, “Education has a much broader and deeper meaning; it is not confined to time or space, it is an attitude, a constant search for learning founded on an insatiable curiosity”. Similarly, continue to enhance your leadership skills to enable you overcome many challenges ahead.

Referring you back to ‘surfing the waves’, when surfers see a good wave, they make the most of it, even if that means surfing in the middle of the storm. They always do so because they have developed the skill. To do so also, in your own area, you must develop the necessary skills.

nyanchamajoseph@gmail.com

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