As coronavirus or Covid-19 spreads globally Nigeria not exempted, it is throwing up new challenges that were not imaginable a few months back . Entire cities, towns, factories, and communities have been shut down. Plans , programmes and projects have either been suspended, distorted or completely halted. In Nigeria, the outbreak is having its way across the different states and it is costing the country billions or even trillions of naira to contain.
Covid 19 is not only causing health and economic challenges but has distorted our social settings and is throwing up leadership challenges. It is simply a test of leadership capacity for most of our leaders, both in the public and private sectors. Nothing has challenged leadership capacity in recent times like this issue. Leaders are either gaining or losing reputation daily as the society anxiously looks up to them for safety, security, care and emergency preparedness . If nothing else is gained at the end of this crisis, it is the fact that it is beginning to separate real leaders from mediocre or fake leaders. The people are keeping records of unmanaged expectation gaps and their silence is simply golden.
As a scholar of leadership, I have taken more than a passing interest in the different leadership styles exhibited by leaders both pretenders, imaginary and real leaders . Most importantly, the populace is also aware of real and imaginary impact these leaders are making in their lives . Challenges and crises shine light on our leadership capacity and its impact or expose incompetence.
The least that will be expected of any serious leader at this time of crisis will be prioritizing the safety of those under their watch either as citizens, residents, employees, or family. Leaders will be expected to be in the frontlines inspiring the people that are downcast and giving them hope and courage for a brighter clime . Leaders will be engaging the people in an honest and explicit manner and addressing their concerns. They will use their visibility and influence to lead by example and strengthen new positive culture as well as reinforce the resolve of the people to stay on the right path. Genuine leaders will be concerned about how to keep their states, institutions or firms running, rendering service using technology without compromising the safety of her people. This era of Covid -19 provides a rare platform for followers, citizens, residents or employees to properly assess leaders and determine their suitability to lead into a great future and how best to relate with them.
Around the world, and particularly in the Nigerian scene, distinct and different leadership styles are being displayed. Numerous classification and taxonomy of leadership styles exist but for the purposes of this conversation, we will examine only five which may include modification of styles to fit into the crisis mode we have found ourselves.
The great leadership scholar Gary Yukl admitted that no one leadership style can be effective in all situations. Bernard Bass, another Leadership scholar reinforces this position in his situational leadership model where he theorizes that for a leader to be effective they must be able to adapt to the situation and transform their leadership style between task and relationships. Our concern is not whether Style A or Style B proves most effective but to draw attention to the different leadership styles and their intended and unintended impact at this crisis time .
The first leadership style is the laissez-faire style which is characterized by lack of definite leadership position. The Kenyans, for example, have accused President Uhuru Kenyatta of adopting this leadership style in addressing Covid19. This view contrasts with what I know personally of President Kenyatta in the two previous engagements I have had with him . Kenyans have described their President’s handling of Covid19 as clumsy, shoddy, lackadaisical and grossly insensitive . A report published on 3rd April 2020 by www.theelephant.info , a Kenyan newspaper that prides itself as “speaking truth to power” accused President Kenyatta of blatantly exhibiting a laissez-faire attitude towards battling the deadly virus. Their specific grouse was mainly for his inactions in ensuring that the hospitals were appropriate and ready to tackle Covid 19 cases which was imminent , being that a lot of Kenyans did business with chinese , his indecision over promptly suspending air travels between China and Nairobi , and rapid resumption of direct flights between Kenya and China, and a lack of regular engagement with the populace, creating huge communication gap, amongst other nonchalant behaviour. Many Governors in Nigeria are far more guilty of whatever the Kenyan people would have accused their leader of.
A story making the rounds in the tabloids of social media, though unconfirmed, asserts that a particular governor in Southern Nigeria claimed that his state is the only state named in the Bible and is therefore immune to the Covid 19 spread. In essence, the state has no need to prepare for any eventuality. If this is credible, nothing can be more offensive to the people than such display of crass ignorance and worse still, lack of leadership.
Another leadership style worth considering for which a number of Nigerian leaders especially Governors have adopted because of their belief that they are actually the owners and lords of the states, is the Coercive or command and Control style. A number of leaders I spoke to say this has worked well for non-liberal democracies where autocrats hold sway without considering their application of this style and the environmental or situational context . Some of the characteristics of this style is a bullying mentality, “I am always right” mentality by the leader, lack of consultation or coordination and easily leads to breakdown of trust. A number of Nigerian governors are simply issuing directives that have absolutely no bearing with the crisis at hand. A particular Governor ignore the necessity to give his people advance information only to wake up one morning and shut all boundaries to the state as well as economic activities. Such rash decision without any form of consultation left the people helpless and hopeless . This style is even more visible with one man owner and run companies.
The Charismatic or Transformational or Pace Setting Leaders are those who lead with agility and humility, communicate honestly and consistently, and accept nothing short of excellence . They may be out of physical office yet not out of work , making fast responses and keeping up with the pace . Lagos, Kaduna , Oyo and Ogun STATES governors amongst others readily come to mind amongst many others.
Governors Nasir El Rufai and Seyi Makinde set up Strategies to fiercely contain Covid 19 at its onset , engaged the people on preventive measures to halt its spread , during which they tested positive to the virus, made their statuses known, went into self confinement for isolation , yet continued to lead from behind the scene and did not lose their sense of connection with their people. Their leadership in their respective states showed they had a clear strategy and robust Consultation platform.
The transactional leaders look out for who to blame, actrashly, loves showmanship, and will do everything to distract the public from the real issues. A transactional leader prioritizes reward and emphasizes contract and financial gains . We have seen a particular governor in one of the Southern states shout to high heavens that his state was not given the billions of Naira given to another state , which is the epicenter of Covid 19 in Nigeria. It is obvious his driving motive is not the interest of the state but self-serving . To add, the said Governor had purportedly jettisoned World Health Organization’s advise to ban social gatherings or reduce them to a maximum of fifty persons where inevitable , and has lifted the ban on religious communal activities within the state during the festive weekend , as if Covid 19 pandemic was taking a break during the festive period . Transactional leaders are inconsistent in their actions because whatever they perceive will serve their interest at any point in time is what will drive them to act .
Then enters the Democratic leaders. These leaders place priority on using consensus to arrive at decisions. Continuous, authentic and transparent communication with the people is one of the hallmarks. Leadership scholars agree that this may not be the best in a crisis period as time and pace are major drivers of success in a crisis.
No matter the leadership style adopted by different leaders, what remains Constant is that leadership is both a privilege and a responsibility. Many persons mistake “position” for leadership. Not all persons who are in “position” are leaders and not all leaders hold offices. The true worth of leadership is in our response to challenges and crisis. Crisis brings out the best or worst in our character and leadership capacity. Covid 19 has laid bare a lot of leadership incompetence amongst the leadership class I submit, not only in Nigeria, but all over the world.
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