A Critique of Pat Utomi’s Theory on Management Leadership

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

Those of us who comment in the public sphere have an onerous responsibility to be precise and accurate. In our analysis, we owe it to our readers to be objective and point a new path based on reason. Our writing is not just for the record, but for enlightenment. This responsibility is especially sacred if we choose to write on the World Wide Web, that powerful but noisy platform that have turned loose a wealth of knowledge and bagful of information on mankind. It is also especially true that while we write variedly and on various topics and themes, some are regarded as experts in certain areas. Indeed, when we write on those topics on which experience and judgement have conferred on us special expertise, we carry a far greater responsibility than the rest of the pack.

Certainly, when Pat Utomi writes about management and/or leadership the listening public tunes in. We do so not because Pat Utomi is our nascent day Nostradamus, but because as philosophy is to Aristotle, so is Pat Utomi to leadership and management amongst this band of wild internet warriors. I need not explore his background to prove this. Based on that premise, I read the discourse penned by the amiable Utomi titled: “The difference between leadership and management”.

It is true we don’t anticipate experts making pedestrian mistakes, much the same way as one should never dream of Bash Ali in his heydays making a fool of Mohammed Ali when he was in top form. That is a nightmarish scenario. When experts stumble, our world tumble and we may fumble (no pun intended); indeed the history of professionals in our national life is riddled with book experts who make a generalization of their knowledge but fail woefully in its application. In error, they juxtapose examples without foreseeing the implicit pitfalls in their analogies and near approximations to real life. Falae still believes in SAP, as Pat Utomi thinks El Rufai was a leader not a manager. Theirs is an error in analogy, usually rendering the underlying thought mundane when compared to their larger body of discourse no matter how valid.

The problem with Professor Utomi’s theory was not the substantive underlying distinction between leadership and management, as a matter of fact it was timely; it was the analogies that symbolized this distinction for his readers that made it fall flat on its face. Indeed, there is no question that our country has been lacking in directional leadership since inception, and it was about time the record was set straight on the use of the word “leader” in a generation where every Tamuno, Dickson and Harry is assuming that title as if it has gone out of style. However, the professor made the inexcusable error of tying leadership to the simplistic notion of “action”. Paraphrasing him, activity is associated with leadership. I disagree and I will explain.

In fact, leadership should not be associated with activity for the sake of it, or for hyperactivity for that matter. Leadership is associated with having an uncommon vision for change, using the limited resources available to effect such positive change and creating institutional capacity to ensure such change is not just maintained but improved upon. On the other hand, a great manager simply takes action. The action of a great manager is centered on “us now” instead of “them later”, which is generally the focus of the leader. The leader plans revolves around three generations, the manager focus is on the present. A great manager marshals resources to do his job, and does it excellently well; a great leader builds consensus to reach for higher ideals. One last thing a great leader does is that they breed natural successors. Managers on the other hand impose successors or end up without any! Writing in 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, author John C. Maxwell wrote in the 13th and 14th that “only secure leaders’ gives powers to others” and “it takes a leader to raise a leader”. His chart of ten great coaches that Bill Walsh, the great 49ers coach spawned is a testimony to this fact (pp 135)

On these counts, neither Ribadu nor I dare say El-Rufai, makes the list of great leaders. Indeed, at best Ribadu is a mediocre to okay leader who had a vision for fighting corruption, made attempts to build public consciousness against it and deployed resources to build institutional capacity with limited success (just examine the modus operandi of EFCC after his departure; floundering without his much needed leadership acumen). If it is true that the quality of leadership is a product of time and space, one can make a case that Ribadu was a truly great leader in the making; and perhaps still is. The jury is till out on him. But on El-Rufai, I totally disagree.

El-Rufai the immediate past Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister is the prototype great manager, but horrible leader. The man is a walking contradiction when one juxtaposes his shortsighted vision with his basic execution strategy. Lacking in vision, and being a poor judge of human beings, his purposeful strategy paper produced for the abhorrent dictator Olusegun Obasanjo exemplifies the true to type manager. A manager has no higher ideals: no principle; you can hire a manger on the street to do his job, much the same way Obasanjo paid El-Rufai to produce the now public strategy paper on a succession plan (yes, a last minute one when self succession failed). El-Rufai was an excellent manager of the FCT, doing his job of keeping the city clean and well maintained and he deserves credit for that. But what he had in action, he lacked in vision.

Lacking in tact, style and unable to build lasting consensus for his limited vision (if it ever existed, as I do not see any action or words that elucidates them on record), El-Rufai’s legacy is today being undone in his own very face. Indeed, the story of the emerging unplanned and chaotic Abuja is not a contrast between leaders and managers as Professor Utomi posits in his essay. but one between good managers and bad managers. El-Rufai during his period in the public eye was brash, arrogant and tactless. Because of his style, he was unable to present an enduring vision of a beautiful and permanently flowering national capital city even to his friends, talk less of his foes that he started making (thank goodness!) from day one.

Undeniably, his inability to build enduring institutions saw him acting through multiple agencies like FCTA (often synthesized), instead of say having a vision of a grand city with an autonomous government and an elected mayor that will reflect the will of the residents for a clean, peaceful and prosperous city that will endure beyond his term in office. A city that will stop being captive to the powerful and connected. Can you imagine the possibilities of a powerful argument from the then unelected FCT minister to General Olusegun Obasanjo for the creation of the first federally chartered city in our country? Can you imagine the possibilities of trusting the common sense of the Nigerian people to elect capable leaders to lead such franchise, and committing a constitutional amendment to create such city and fund it for posterity such that its shape, form and existence will defy the madness and filth that characterizes other cities in our country? Can you imagine for one second El-Rufai spending more time on this project, than say for preparing a five million dollars strategy paper to undermine our democracy? Can you imagine for one second El-Rufai being a leader and not just any cash and carry manager?

Such is the possibility of leadership. Leadership implies courage in the face of exceptional challenges; cool execution in the face of impossible opposition and consensus building in the face of chaotic meanderings. Leaders build institutions that outlast them. Leaders hold

on to sacred ideals that are not bartered for short term comfort and rationalizations. Leaders are not just managers, but are visionaries. On this count, Professor Pat Utomi’s distinctions between leadership and managers might have been timely, but the analogies are totally out of place. I rest my case.

You may also like

1 comment

Obi June 19, 2009 - 10:19 pm

Thank you!


Leave a Comment