Leadership is dialogue

Taiwo Odukoya

Leadership requires continuous interaction between the leader(s) and the led. In other words, leadership is an ongoing conversation that necessitates frequent clarification of goals and objectives, how well they are being achieved, and if or not strategies need to be realigned. The lesser this conversation occurs, the more likely there is to be a breakdown between the leadership and the led, to the detriment of their collective vision. This is as true for a marriage, as it is for an organisation or a nation.

Experts identify four principal factors that allow for effective conversation between leaders and followers. They include:
• Intimacy: a mental and emotional bond between the leadership and the people, facilitated by honest exchanges.
• Interactivity: open and accessible channels of communication that make it easy for people to talk to leadership and for leadership to talk back.
• Inclusion: An environment that allows anyone and everyone to contribute ideas and make constructive criticism.
• Intentionality: rich and meaningful conversations that address specific issues.

It was Ban Ki Moon, the outgoing UN Secretary General, who said: “Building sustainable cities – and a sustainable future – will need open dialogue among all branches of national, regional and local governments. And it will need the engagement of all stakeholders – including the private sector and civil society, and especially the poor and marginalised.” No single individual or group has all the answers. Creating a space for unfiltered interaction between leadership and the people broadens the pool of ideas and expands the possibility for innovative solutions.

In 2010, the Australian government, under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, initiated the Australian Public Service reform, an initiative that helped build one of the most effective public services in the world today. At the cornerstone of this reform was the deepening of the conversation between government and the people. According to Prime Minister Rudd, the priority of the reform was “to forge a stronger relationship with citizens through better delivery of services, and greater involvement of citizens in their government.”

Terry Morgan, Australia’s most senior public servant at the time, buttressed this by saying that “the engagement of citizens is not only the right thing to do, but will provide a rich new source of ideas to government.” We also find an example of leadership as dialogue in the Bible. Israel had been struck by a three-year famine and David, its king, was at a loss of what to do. After conferring with the Lord, it came out that the famine was the result of the injustice done to the Gibeonites under Saul. And what did David do? He opened a channel of dialogue with the Gibeonites, who proposed a solution that ended the famine.

The last couple of weeks have seen a wave of angry emotions sweeping across Nigeria. The economic situation is taking its toll, and people do not think their voices are being heard or that the government is talking to them enough about what it is doing to solve the problems. But it must be said, that though the buck stops at the table of the Federal Government, the states, local governments, Houses of Assembly, and councilors also have a major responsibility. They are structurally meant to be closer to the people, and ought to be a key part of the system of information dissemination and interaction with the people.

Only few Nigerians actually know their local government chairmen, councilors of their wards or elected representatives at the state and federal legislative houses. So, there is no conversation going on at all in these quarters. The reasons are: One, the people do not care to know who their leaders are at this level, and two, the leaders really do not care to engage with the people. We don’t have to wait until protests erupt on the streets and become violent before issues are addressed and problems solved.

But dialogue itself is not an end. Without results, conversations between the leadership and the led will only lead to more frustration.
If we do not have these conversations and insist on answers, we will continue to experience a systematic breakdown of the social contract that binds the leadership and the led. But I believe we will find a way through, in Jesus name.
Nigeria Has A Great Future

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Taiwo Odukoya
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