Published On: Tue, Mar 31st, 2015

Purpose-driven leadership in Africa

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During the last Christmas and New Year holidays, a number of my colleagues in diaspora complained about the state of affairs of things back home in Africa. We argued extensively on who is responsible between the leaders and the followers who elected them. We agreed on the need for our people in diaspora to come back home to Africa and join the public or private sector in order to help address our issues, salvage whatever is remaining and help transform our continent so that we can be respected wherever we choose to visit in the world. We recognised that the African continent, which is as big geographically as a combination of Europe, China, USA and India, is richly endowed with many resources (human, raw materials, money, good weather, etc). We also agreed on the urgent need for a valuable purpose-driven leadership in both public and private sectors of Africa to harness these resources towards achieving clear goals that will benefit generations.
The problems of leadership in Africa are not genetic but rather due to lack of necessary tools, abilities, skills, right attitude, knowledge, right actions, poor results, failure to learn from failures and history, etc.Most African leaders have no clear purpose for being in leadership roles; all they have is a desire to have raw power in order to amass wealth for their greedy selfish ends rather than do something concrete for the benefit of the citizenry.
Most African leaders suffer from lack of self-confidence and internal validation. Their minds are not yet fully developed; so they pursue primarily accumulation of money rather than pursuit of a veritable legacy. They have very little knowledge about creating an enabling environment for posterity. Many new business managers and leaders are also very task-focused and bottom-line oriented. They often complain that their team is stuck and the organization culture is not a healthy one. They share communication challenges and lack of accountability across their organisations. Some are very quick to point the finger at another manager and fail to realise where the solution resides.But how can you hold yourself accountable if you have not taken the time to reflect on who you are as a leader, why you chose to lead, and what matters to you right now? My question to emerging leaders are: “Do you have a leadership purpose or do you know your WHY? (The purpose, drive, or values that inspire you to be a leader every day)?
Purpose and values are vital to successful leadership. As a leader, you can’t delegate purpose and values to Human Resources or middle management. The top executives of every organisation need to focus and believe in the values and purpose of the organisation. They need to exemplify them in a way that is visible to everyone they engage with on a daily basis.
Great leaders lead by example when they walk the talk and become stewards of purpose in their organisation. Leaders who are in tune with their purpose don’t send company emails and memos only. They want to connect and engage with people in their organisation. They have strong convictions andtry to live by them. They take the time to listen by soliciting people’s feedback; they solve problems and manage challenges.
Roy Spence once said, “What is a purpose? Simply put, it is a definitive statement about the difference you are trying to make. If you have a purpose and can articulate it with clarity and passion, everything makes sense, everything flows. You feel good about what you’re doing and clear about how to get there.”
So, how can you be clear about your leadership purpose? Here are three questions to help you navigate and discover your WHY:

What do you stand for?
Purpose-driven leaders know what they stand for. They identify critical values in their operating philosophy that help them make important decisions that drive the company culture. They do not leave those for chance. So, ask yourself today: What do I really stand for? Is it innovation? Is it integrity? Trust?Accountability? Why are you in business?

What problem can you help solve?
Every challenge comes with a dose of opportunity. Our world is full of challenges,as well as great opportunities that call for great leadership. There are plenty of problems around us. But the real question is, how do we want to help make the world a better place? How can we solve a problem today? The best leaders did not shy away from problems and challenges. Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. all faced a world in despair. But, they saw a great calling to serve humanity for generations to come and they seized the opportunities presented by the prevailing challenges.

What business are you in?
Each of us is part of a whole. But what are we trying to accomplish? Better customer service? Better product? Better innovation? As a leader of any business, we need to know why we exist. Why are we doing what we are doing and who dothe products and services help at the end of the day? A great example of this is Apple. By creating quality trustworthy products and services that make people’s lives easier and more effective,people identify with their brand and purpose.

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras who wrote “Built to Last” share the following insight on leading with purpose:“Purpose refers to the difference you are trying to make in the world; mission is the core strategy that must be undertaken to fulfil that purpose; a vision is a vivid, imaginative conception or view of how the world will look once your purpose has been largely realised.”

Becoming a purpose-driven leader
What separates the best leaders from the rest? What do they have that trumps up their success? Is it knowledge? Motivation?Money?Great leadership begins on the inside of every person. It begins with discovering our life’s purpose!
Purpose is that deepest dimension within us that tells us who we are, where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going. If you are not fired up and energised about something you deeply care about, then most likely people will not follow.The passion in you is the power that will elevate the world to a better place. When a leader has a compelling purpose, the people around him want to become a part of the inspiring mission to change lives.
Leaders who are purpose-driven are on a life-long quest to be connected with something larger than their own life.Bill Gates did not start Microsoft to become the richest man in the world. He saw the potential of personal computers to transform the lives of many people. He was determined to create a software that would make them useful for every person in the world.He followed his passion and purpose and, in the process, became the richest man in the world. That was the outcome, not the goal. His purpose was to change how we live.
Steve Job’s vision was not to make a load of money and retire rich one day. Steve Job’s purpose was to help people unleash their creativity. He wanted to enrich people’s lives.He was passionate and had a purpose to enrich people’s lives through the products that Apple created.He wanted people to be connected to an experience, whether it was a phone or a computer. When we live on purpose we make decisions and choices to live a life of legacy.
In the book, Good to Greatby Jim Collins, surveying several companies in different industries, the author makes the case that Level 5 leaders were building teams around a common vision and purpose. These companies went beyond the purpose of making money and meeting the shareholders expectations.They found a higher calling and purpose by changing the world through their services and contribution. Purpose was more important that profits.
Happiness at work illustrates that personal job satisfaction is closely linked to feeling like we are on a path to a higher purpose, or that we’re doing something that we really believe in.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of and author of “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, says that, “When people do something that actually contributes to a higher purpose that they really believe in, research has shown that this actually is the longest lasting type of happiness.”
So how can you become a purpose-driven leader?

Purpose is on the inside-Connect with your heart first and be authentic about what is it that you want to help people about? It doesn’t have to be a big cause. When you have a clear purpose, you can articulate it to others with fire and passion. You feel good and energised about who you are as a human being.

• Choose a purpose that is bigger than yourself-Having a purpose that can be compelling and encourage participation on the part of the followers is something that Jeff Bezos, the founder of says, “Choose a mission that is bigger than the company.”

• Create value for people-Great leaders have something in common.They focus on adding value to whatever their passion and purpose is. When you can add value to people’s lives, whether through a product or service, their lives becomes more meaningful and in some respect better than they were yesterday.

Nothing is ever the same once you tap into your life’s purpose and your leadership calling. You begin to sense higher positivity and energy that you thought did not exist in you. Life becomes truly fulfilling and rewarding.

The misunderstood art of leading
Linda Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, is a champion of leadership through empowerment. Her work focuses on leaders who have excelled by enabling others to do the doing.In other words, if you seek professorial wisdom,vocal displays of assertiveness are not necessarily leadership.Her work on Nelson Mandela’s leadership style highlights her research-based beliefs that in the business world, too, there are countless benefits to viewing leadership as a collective activity. So do her insights on the stealth leaders within organisations – those unheralded members of the rank-in-file who take charge of key initiatives.Hill’s latest book, “Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation”, makes a fascinating argument that Hill has made before: namely, that to lead innovation, you should not view leadership as a take-charge, bull-by-the-horn-grabbing activity.Instead, your job should be to create, populate, and inspire a flexible ecosystem, in which employees feel comfortable proposing radical ideas and challenging long-held corporate beliefs.

Find the strengths of your culture
For example, there’s a change-management myth that tends to inflate the roles of leaders. The myth generally involves asuper-leader, imported from another company, arriving and making wholesale changes which produce demonstrable wins in the first 100 days.
From my experience, that type of top-down approach isn’t the best way to motivate employees to do what innovation requires. The best way, is to tap into emotions those employees already feel.Those emotions could lie in a product’s quality, or in the overall role a company plays on the world’s stage.Regardless of what those emotions are, the most important thing a leader can do – early on in a change-management initiative -is discover where those emotions and pride-points lie and connect with employees through these points.
There is also need for paradigm shift from change-management concept to leading change. While the former is a reaction to change, leading change is proactive and much productive in releasing the energies of the workforce.

Using people’s talents
Using what he learnt, De Meo was able to make his branding goals less of a top-down initiative and more of a community-based desire, built around a mutual sense of purpose. He did this in two ways: (1) He directly involved employees in the creation of a centralised brand; (2) he tied the importance of creating a centralised brand to the pride-points of quality engineering and the auto industry. Specifically, he did this by organizing a massive three-day off-site devoted to brainstorming about the brand. Instead of PowerPoint presentations, the off-site-held at a Frank Gehry-designed building in Berlin–was more like a design lab, filled with prototyping, testing, and most of all, discussing and arguing across the rank and file.
De Meo recalled it as “artwork everywhere, loud rock music signaling transitions between activities, snapshots showing the history of the automotive industry mixed in with conversations about the future of mobility.”
You can see how this approach would engage employees who were already prideful about their industry and their product. And there was another piece of the engagement too: De Meo’s inclusive approach made branding something the entire company was involved in. Employees were creatively collaborating, brainstorming, and participating, rather than responding to just another mandate from “those big guys on top in Wolfsburg.”

Power of purpose
Generally, we don’t use people’s talents as fully as we can. By contrast, De Meo’s approach created a branding effort behind which a historically decentralised company found unity. He believes you build a brand from the inside out.
As for results, they were tangible: By the time De Meo left VW for Audi, the VW brand had risen in the ranking of all brands worldwide from 55th to 39th. Sixteen points jump! But more than this quantifiable accomplishment, De Meo had proven that real change can occur when you engage your employees on a personal level, and find out why your organisation (and its posterity) matters to them. VW became a textbook-worthy case of that easy-to-preach, hard-to-practice principle of purpose-driven, community-centric leadership.
Purpose – not the leader, authority, or power – is what creates and animates a community. It is what makes people willing to do the hard tasks of innovation together and work through the inevitable conflict and tension.
It was the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche who observed that “he who has a why can endure any how”. Leaders who know their why are better able to navigate and achieve success in the fast changing and uncertain world of today.Consider some of the leaders of the past who persevered in the face of difficult circumstances. Leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill,Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jnr and so many others. These leaders connected to a purpose that matter to them. For Nelson Mandela, it was the liberation of the people of South Africa. For Winston Churchill, it was to prevent Hitler from conquering the world. The reason we remember these leaders was their commitment to a bold purpose. It’s this courage and commitment to a purpose that inspires us still today.
Whilst great leaders of times past were purpose-driven, it may surprise to know that many leaders today lack clarity of purpose. Research cited in the article “From Purpose to Impact” by Nick Craig and Scott A. Snook, found that fewer than 20 per cent of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose. Even fewer can distill their purpose into a concrete statement. A number of African leaders lack clarity of purpose. These are the ones who indulge in attacking personalities rather than address the issues. Whilst leaders can identify the pain and problems that keep them up at night, very few are able to tell you what makes them get out of bed in the morning!

Power of purpose-driven leadership
It was Howard Schultzwho said, “When you are surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment and common purpose, anything is possible.” Having and knowing your purpose is important. Do you know your company’s mission or vision statement? If not, sad to say, you are not alone. According to a survey conducted by TINYPulse ( of over 300 hundred companies and 40,000 anonymous responses, the survey revealed that only 42 percent of employees know their organisation’s vision, mission, and values or the WHY of their organisations.
If your employees do not know your company’s vision, mission, or values, then they will be poor representatives of your company. If you, as the leader, have not clearly communicated those core values then you have fallen down on the job. How can your employees represent what they do not know? Purpose-driven leadership is essential to your success. Here are three reasons why:

• It gives context to your past
In order to understand where you are and where you are going it is important to understand your past. Knowing the back-story of your organisation – all the successes and failures and how it emerged in the formative years – is foundational information worth understanding.Marcus Garvey said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without its roots.” Seek to understand where you have come from in order to make sense of where you are going. From that knowledge you can have a greater understanding and appreciation for where you are today.

It keeps you focused on the present
When your purpose and vision is clear it gives your employees the focus they need to succeed. If your team is in the dark about its mission and vision they are without the most basic of tools needed for success. Your employees cannot lead your organisation to its intended destination if they do not understand why they are going there or the values that will guide them.A clear understanding of your purpose gives them the ability to focus like a laser on accomplishing their goals and objectives when they focus on their mission.

It gives you direction for the future
When you can put your past in context and focus on the present then you can build for the future. When you have a purpose that is known, with employees who are really engaged, then you have a future that is promising.

“Even though the future seems far away,” said Mattie Stepanek, “it is actually beginning right now.” Purpose-driven leadership is about empowering and equipping your team. Purpose-driven leadership is the rudder of your ship and will keep you on course. Your future is only as promising as your ability to empower. The time is now to lay claim to your purpose, make known your mission and vision, and discover the possibilities before you.

Lere Baale is a Director of Business School Netherlands, and a Certified Management Consultant with Howes Group –

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Purpose-driven leadership in Africa