Africa

Opinion: Why Leaders Should “Eat Last”

In a previous paper, I underlined possible trends impacting Liberia economy in 2019 and proposed series of recommendations which preceded the IMS report.

In this article, I focus on leadership and why it is important for leaders to “eat last”.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia Map

This is important because the circumstances unfolding in Liberia is disquieting and shocking.  The  lack of leadership is why we have economically and socially fallen of the cliff. It is unfortunate, because it doesn’t have to be this way. For over a century, we have failed to educate and improve the standard of living for our people. That is why the ability to make decisions that benefit them or know right from wrong is limited.

We cannot blame our people for the lack of social insecurity and failure. It is because of this confusion and indecisiveness that Liberia is in a chaotic state and given rise to the Yekeh Kolubah, Abraham Darius Dillon and Henry Costa of the world. It is because most Liberians under 30 (majority of the voting age population) feel they have no future and these individuals feel their pain, even if they are in it for themselves. And so I predict that we are in it for a long haul.

To correct the gross social imbalances of the past, individuals who aspire to leadership must understand Liberia’s  lessons from a historical context and correct it. Neither this current government nor the previous ones have done anything to turn the tide; so history is destined for reappearance.

First, I’ll conceptualize leadership.

One can equate a leader to being a parent. He or she is the core of the family, who makes sacrifices to see that his or her child interests are advanced so that, later in life, they would follow the right path and become successful. So, in the process sacrifices are made by the parent; lot  of them.

It is this kind of leadership Liberia requires to move forward. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The CDC lead government under President George Weah came with all the hope and aspiration that they had the magic wand to solve Liberia’s problem only to drop the ball, because they were not prepared and had no plan; all talk and no substance. So, they are stuck.

Here is  why I think that John C. Maxwell had a right when he said “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”  Similarly, Dwight D. Eisenhower the 34the President of the United States once said “The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity.” The rationale is that without trust and honesty first to yourself and others, success isn’t possible. You cannot force it.

Leaders Eat Last Module By Simon SinekIn Simon Sinek’s book “Leaders Eat Last” he laid out evidently that leaders should create the environment that allow people to feel a sense of purpose, fulfillment and self-actualization from what they do and why leaders must build trust so that people can thrive. In order to build trust, a leader must be transparent and everything he or she does. When they have nothing to hide, they are challenged less because people are aware of what they do and there are no hidden skeleton in their closets. He or she is a teacher and a coach, not a dictator. They communicate what they want to do so the vision is clear.

A leader that eats last is selfless, self-sacrificing; not driven by honor and power with the single-mindedness upon making everyone better. Your success as a leader must come from the vision and accomplishment of your people. Put your people in the spotlight and you will shine. Surround yourself with the best and brightest and you will gleam and standout. A leader that east last is careful of abuse of public office for private gain, since it impacts economic growth and livelihood.

One writer sums it this way with respect to how leaders must eat last  “…Although leaders may not be asked to risk their lives or to save anybody else’s, they should be glad to share their glory and help those with whom they work, succeed. More importantly, in the right conditions, people with whom leaders engage with should choose to also share their glory and take risk. And when that happens, when those kinds of bonds are formed, a strong foundation is laid for the kind of success and fulfillment that no amount of money, fame or awards can buy.”

This is what it means to work in a place in which the leaders prioritize the well-being of their people and, in return, their people give everything they’ve got to protect and advance the happiness of one another; a kind of shared purpose.

This is why we all owe it the opposition in Liberia as well as well Yekeh Kolubah, Abraham Darius Dillon and Henry Costa  because leaders must be checked or you will breed monstrosity and gargantuan.

I have been fortunate to engage with many organizations and have determined that those that are exceptional, whether public (government) or the private (business), are ones in which leaders set clear visions and where people implement those visions. And so, they push harder and harder, take risks to achieve shared-objectives and better the lives of their people. You can only achieve this  if there are empathy and compassion for individuals; not self. People!.

Leaders that eat last see aggrandizement and braggadocio as obstacles to progress and not the other way around. This is fundamental to creating a culture in which folks effortlessly pull together to advance the public good; not  the good of an individual.

Leaders that eat last create a sense of belonging that limit stress and reduce threats.  Everyone feel a part of something bigger; a greater purpose. They give their all, more time, and energy to protect others from the constant dangers outside and seize the big opportunity to impact lives. Smart leaders can accomplish this because it is not about them. Unfortunately, most of our leaders don’t see it this way. They are mostly driven by tittle-tattle, scuttlebutt and gossip.

This is why we need leaders; good ones – Leaders who would look out for people on both sides of the political spectrum (ruling and opposition) and the willingness to sacrifice their comfort for others, even when they disagree with you; a kind of trusted leadership. Trust is not simply a matter of shared opinions. Trust is a biological reaction to the belief that someone has others well-being at heart. Trusted leaders are those who are willing to give up something of their own for others. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, good leaders choose be the last to take from the plate; Not the first.

In addition, a leader that eats last encourage others to do the right thing even if it is popular. When human-beings feel that they have the control to do what’s right and supported, even if it sometimes means breaking the rules, they will more likely do what’s right. Audacity and courage comes from good leaders. Chaos and uncertainties exist from those that are unscrupulous and immoral. A person’s’ poise and timidity to do what’s right is determined by how a person trust his or her leader. A leader that eats last isn’t often fooled because he or she uses common sense and moral judgment.

It is often said that the environment has an impact on the individual. Sometimes if respectable and honest people work in a bad culture, one in which leaders do not relinquish control, lack respect for the law, immoral, shady and corrupt, then the odds of the good habits go down and bad habits go up. Individuals will be more likely than not,  to follow the bad rules out of fear of getting in trouble or getting in trouble with the boss, losing their jobs rather than doing what needs to be done.

Market in Liberia

Market in Liberia

The current global economy will continue to see stock market volatility, decline in commodity prices, trade wars, falling oil prices, hyper-inflation, and the depressing economic prospects for Sub-Saharan Africa. The challenges of reducing poverty and the impact of high inequality across the region will continue to dampened progress and economic activity. And so the challenges of poverty reduction can only be realized through robust economic growth and equitable distribution of the national pie which would require effective and efficiency leadership.

We have by our own nature created a country that is politically and economically out of balance for ourselves and generation to come. It has been so for over 170 years. It will soon self-destruct unless we are smart enough to correct it methodically and with a sense of urgency. Given our inclination for instant enjoyment, satisfaction, pleasure and the weaknesses in our organizations, nevertheless, our leaders may not have the poise or patience to do what needs to be done even if it is the right thing.

For some reasons, there’s this strong feeling that Liberian leaders don’t see their people as individuals but rather pawn in a chess game; a means to an end and why empty promises are often made and they often take the bit and fall for the trap from individuals who are only in it for their own concealed motives. Now more than ever, the Liberian people live daily in a society in which they are total strangers in their own land; in which they struggle to make ends meet.

Liberia is in an imbroglio. How the current government overcome the current entanglement needs to be seen, but leadership should be at the core because effective policies requires sound thinking and facts based on the data to inform policy and drive decision-making.

I have always argued that good governance and effective headship is essential for success in any organization and for implementing policies whether fiscal or monetary. In most instances, crafting effective policy option takes time and requires weighing the pros and cons so that prescriptions drive results and outcome.

So my recommendation for every Liberia leader is to do the following:

  1. Fight to bring people together
  2. Create balance between selfish pursuits versus selfless pursuits
  3. Encourage integrity
  4. Talk less and listen more
  5. There’s always two sides to a story. Listen, listen, listen
  6. Share struggle
  7. Get the job done

To sum, leadership is not about doing less. It is striving to do more. And that’s the dilemma. Leadership takes effort and work. It takes time, energy and a ‘get-up-and-go’ attitude. The effects are not always easily measured and they are not always immediate. Leadership is always a commitment to people to do the right thing.

This is the change Liberia yearns  for; – “A leader that eats last, not first.”

Dr. A. Joel King

Dr. A. Joel King has a doctorate in Management and a diploma in Public Policy Economics from Oxford and Executive Coaching from Cambridge.