Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Leading into leadership – the early years (Tech)

Many people have asked me about my interest in one day running for president. “When are you filing your nomination for the presidency”, they ask jokingly. I don’t have any ambition to be a president or participate in politics in the future but the encouragement I receive has me thinking hard about it. Aside from being the patriot I try so hard to be, I have to be seen as a leader to receive such encouragement. I am hopelessly in love with Ghana and the potential of the nation, I am very optimistic about it and sometimes foolishly idealistic. However, I have not always been this way. In this series of blog posts, I will write about my journey to this point and if I am even worth being mentioned in the same breadth with leadership.

We can paraphrase a famous Shakespeare quote to introduce leadership. Some are born leaders, some achieve leadership and some others have leadership thrust upon them. Increasingly, I feel I fall into the third category. I don’t even know what it means to be born a leader, but I can also confidently argue I haven’t achieved leadership or become the kind of leader I constantly preach about. When people tell you to run for leadership positions or that they will vote for you if you run for a leadership position, you are having leadership thrust upon you. Thank you all very much but allow me to introduce myself one more time.

When I was in primary school, I was a smart student. Placing 3rd, 4th, 5th in my class was not something I enjoyed so I promised myself to ascend to the zenith. Through a stroke of genius, I combed everywhere I could for information and before I knew it, I knew many random facts to win whatever episode of Jeopardy I could participate in. I call it genius, because soon enough, I placed first in my class and would never relinquish my position. I worked hard for something and it paid off. I also led other people to do the same and they did better academically as a result. Call it leadership if you may, I call it taking the bull by the horns and achieving a goal.

I was anything but a social animal during my years at UP and USTJSS. I didn’t interact too much with the opposite sex and my circle of friends consisted of those who lived in my neighbourhood. If I stood for a popularity vote, I’d have lost miserably. In spite of this, my teachers and colleagues found it prudent to elect me ‘class prefect’ many times probably because the teachers saw me as an academic influence and my colleagues thought of it as a thankless job. When a class prefect’s job is to report noisemakers and stubborn students to the authorities, you can see why it is a job a young child would stay away from. I was the sacrificial lamb. You could bet that if my class committed grievous offences, I would be the one to take the fall for that. This is the reward for being a ‘good boy’.

The idea of leadership was foreign to me during these times. Friends called me Kwame Nkrumah all the time because they said my forehead was like his. That was the only semblance I bore with him. I knew him as the man who led the fight for independence but right now, I know him as someone different. At that time, I couldn’t see what kind of a leader he was because I wasn’t concerned or interested. I wasn’t interested in taking risks, or making bold moves, you could say I was shy. I was a crybaby as well because I was too remorseful after ‘sinning’ and I couldn’t handle punishment as well as my peers. What is a person like me to do with leadership?

When I entered junior secondary school, my reputation as a class prefect had followed me. Note that I didn’t say I was a great or good class prefect. I had done the job before so when my class had to choose one, I was often chosen. I wasn’t chosen because I had a history of successes or mess-ups, I was chosen because someone had to do it. I became more social in JSS, and my popularity soared. As class prefect, I would organize quiz competitions amongst my colleagues (this earned me a nickname called Mr. Clue) but when I jotted down ‘names of talkatives’ I would not include my crew because according to yours truly, these people were making academic noise. This is partiality of the first order but I found a way to reason it out as a good deed. Call it dictatorship if you may, call it partiality if you may, call it abuse of position if you may; I call it ‘influence’.

During the transition from JSS 2 to JSS 3, the school had to elect prefects. I didn’t stand for a single position because I feared I was not popular. These positions would be awarded by voting. Standing for a position, having to campaign, being subject to public ridicule, and ultimately served with no guarantee of attaining that position scared me intoto. It would have been a nightmare. The risk-averse boy that I was said ‘no, thank you’. I feared failure, defeat, and disappointment. My friends stood for these positions, I supported a few and some of them won. I was happy for them. Knowing people in high places would save my face in case I was in trouble. The first real opportunity at leading and creating change came my way and I bolted usainly in the other direction like a Michael Phelps chasing a world record. This leadership thing was/is probably not for me, I will say to myself.

To achieve greatness, you have to work on it from day one. The same holds true for leadership. You have to show a bonafide liking for it, a perpetual interest in leading, and a confidence that exudes factors uncontrollable by you. When I was young and seeking to be counted amongst the first 10 in the USTJSS combine, leadership was the last thing on my mind. Even when I got to represent my school in a national competition, Kiddie Quiz, among others, I didn’t feel a sense of leadership. We’ll see if I grew more attached to it as I progressed through life.

PS: Listening to Mandela, a tribute song composed by South African artiste, Lira
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