The Tragedy of Leadership and Followership in Nigeria: A Call for Total Destruction and Reconstruction of Ideas and Behaviour

by Lawrence Onwuegbuchunam,Ph.D.

Leadership has been defined as a process whereby a leader influences a group of followers to achieve common goal (Northouse, 2013). Also, leadership is the process of social influence that directs the actions and the activities of a group towards their shared goal (Bolden, Hawkins, Goshing & Taylor, 2011). Leaders have ethical and moral responsibilities to pay attention to the mutual needs/common goals that exist between them and the followers, instead of seeking their own interests alone (Northouse, 2013; Sendjaya, 2015).

Followership, is the other side of leadership, and in fact, an indispensable aspect of leadership. Followership means following direction, and absorbing information in order to work collaboratively as a team, to accomplish certain goals (McCallum, 2013). The concept of followership extends to include the ability to behave appropriately, to do the right thing, and to carry oneself in an honorable way in the world (Riggio, Chaleff & Lipman-Blumen, 2008). Followership is important, and justifies the necessity and the relevancy of leadership in the first place, and as well, underscores an important dyadic relationship that exists between leaders and followers. Elaborating on the dignity and beauty evident in the art of followership, Riggio, Chaleff and Lipman-Blumen (2008) argued that great followers make great leaders and great organizations, a statement of fact that locates effective followership within the context of great leadership. Therefore, effective collaboration between leaders and followers is both necessary and compulsorily important in order to accomplish common goals. It is a shared responsibility.

The Problem with Nigerian Leadership and Followership

I contend that one of the biggest problems evident in Nigerian leadership and followership is anchored in their erroneous worldviews, beliefs, and assumptions on the meaning and the context of leadership; worldviews that detach and distant values and servanthood from the meaning and the context of leadership, which translate to misconduct, unethical behaviour, and leadership crisis. In other words, to lead is to serve (Locke, 1986; Sendjaya, 2015), and both leaders and followers work collaboratively to effectively accomplish the common goal of the country; a dyadic relationship that is grounded in mutual empowerment of both parties.

It is not uncommon to see various credible criticisms and blames on Nigerian leadership about the deplorable state of that country. And, it is unpopular to extend the same criticisms to followership or to the citizens of that country. Indeed, a follower today could be a leader tomorrow. Leaders influence and empower followers toward accomplishing common goals, and followers in return, influence, empower, and contribute to effective and successful leadership. Burns (2003) echoed the idea that new leadership always emerges from the followers (the citizens). A leader with selfish and dishonest ambition, and erroneous belief and worldview on leadership, is a dangerous man, and a total disservice to the citizens. Also, a citizen today who possesses erroneous worldview on leadership, and a selfish ambition of embezzlement of public fund, will become a dishonest and a crooked leader tomorrow, for people don’t usually give what they don’t have. That is the reason why values, morals, ethics, and worldviews are central to good leadership and good followership as well.

Worldview is the fundamental and the foundational drive behind our cultural and personal beliefs. Worldview is the conglomeration of the assumptions, and beliefs that influence the way we think and behave, and as well, determine our thoughts and behaviour (Cosgrove, 2006). The fundamental ideas, beliefs and assumptions that we have, which are both conscious and unconscious, inform and influence the lenses through which we view reality. Our worldview helps us to interpret and attach meaning to our lives, it helps us to organize our life experiences and decisions into an accurate and clearer perspective, just as the reading glasses put the world into a clearer and a better focus for many people (Cosgrove, 2006).

Worldviews help us to answer the fundamental question about the meaning of life, and could give us emotional security and stability during the time of crises, such as illness. It informs and provides us with insights regarding right and wrong. It helps us to integrate our culture in a way that makes sense to us (Hiebert, 2008). Worldview is a “commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart that can be expressed, which may be true, partially true or entirely false, that we hold consciously or unconsciously about reality, that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being” (Sire 2009, p.20).

From practical and lived experience perspectives, it is a statement of fact that leadership worldviews held by majority of Nigerians, especially, but not exclusively, by the people in leadership positions, are entirely wrong. The status quo in Nigerian leadership; the context and the meaning of leadership in Nigeria is bereaved of the foundational concepts of leadership which are: servanthood, effectiveness, and values. It is almost a strange ideology in Nigeria to perceive leadership in the context of servanthood. I contend that the entirely erroneous worldview on the meaning of leadership and followership held by most Nigerians, is the primary cause of leadership and followership issues in that country. A typical example of this statement is anchored in a popular common saying in Igbo culture that “Igwe adaghi eje nga” (A leader/a king cannot be prosecuted and jailed. Although this is not always the case in Nigeria, to be fair). In other words, a leader is expected to be above the law, which is a strange, an unwelcomed, and often frowned-upon concept in a democratic society, (of which Nigeria is believed to be one), where everyone is equal before and under the law, at least in principle, and most of the time, in practice.

Whenever we talk about corruptions in Nigerian leadership, implicitly, we are echoing that there are certain qualities and values which we expect our leaders to possess, and corruption is not one of them. Indeed, many leadership scholars, including Burns (2003), have long acknowledged that leadership is value laden. In other words, there are values that are necessary for good, authentic, and effective leadership. Honesty for example, is needed in leadership positions, because corruption is the outcome of dishonesty. Ciulla (2004) located ethics at the heart of leadership, and contended that a good leadership is a leadership that is both “ethical and effective” (p.13). Hitler for example was perceived as a charismatic leader who influenced his followers, and was effective in achieving common goal. But Hitler’s action was not ethical, and using Ciulla’s argument, Hitler was not a good leader. So, leadership effectiveness is grounded in ethical and moral principles.

Most Nigerian citizens (Not all), believe that leadership position/office is an opportunity for exploitation, embezzlement of public fund, and accumulation of wealth for the leader and for his/her generations to come. This selfish ambition becomes the most basic drive that motivate many Nigerians to use every possible means, especially, wrong avenues, to pursue and run for public offices. The presence of uncontrolled power and money attached to leadership role in Nigeria, is the root of the evil in Nigerian leadership and followership today, and that evil is grounded in the erroneous worldviews held by Nigerians on the meaning and the context of leadership.

As noted earlier, great followers make great leaders. In other words, corrupt followers also make corrupt leaders. This is because a follower today, can become a leader tomorrow. Followers with erroneous worldview on the meaning and the context of leadership and followership, who are bereaved of the commitment to serve; with no conviction that leadership is anchored in servanthood and values, and that leaders and followers work collaboratively toward achieving common goal, will as well, seek leadership position with a subterranean selfish ambition of exploitation and embezzlement of public wealth for personal use.

It is extremely a challenging task to accomplish in regards to eradicating corruption in Nigeria, especially when the corruption is deeply rooted in the leader who supposed to influence followers toward achieving common goals. Leaders influence followers through their words and their actions, but more importantly, through their actions, for actions speak louder than voice. Leaders increase their leadership credibility if what they are saying is grounded in values, and are consistent with their actions (Malphurs, 2004). Again, leadership is value laden. There are corruptions in leadership in almost all the countries, including the West, probably due to the fact that selfishness is embedded in the very nature of human person. But, the difference between the corruption in the western countries and in Nigeria is grounded in mostly appropriate worldview and working systems that hold both leaders and followers equally accountable evident in the Western societies, (though not perfect, but at least to a reasonable extent), and the erroneous worldviews (held by most Nigerians), as well as the ineffective working legal system in Nigeria. Majority of citizens (not all) from the western countries have reasonably right worldviews, and believe in the rule of law, and the fact that everyone should equal before and under the law, with system of checks and balances that work to a reasonable extent, and holds everyone accountable. The fundamental difference between Nigeria and the West, is anchored in the fundamental error in worldview by most Nigerians, and lack of effective working legal system that holds everyone accountable, regardless of status, fame or money in Nigeria.

A Call for Total Demolition and Reconstruction of Worldviews and Behaviour

 Worldviews can and do change over time. Erroneous worldviews can change in light of right information and right education (Cosgrove, 2006). Collectively, we have the obligation to help people improve their worldviews when their beliefs have inconsistencies, and when their perceptions and assumptions are not consistent with good information (Cosgrove, 2006). Since worldview is so deeply rooted and embedded in our subconscious (Sire, 2009), and thus, requires scrupulous examination and rigorous reflection for one to be consciously aware of it, it is often very difficult to change, because it is the foundation on which we live and move and have our being (Sire, 2009), as well as the lens of our meaning making and sense making of the world.

It is therefore both necessary and relevant to call for a total demolition of the erroneous worldviews held by most Nigerians on the meaning and the context of leadership and followership. It is also necessary to acknowledge the complex and the rigorous process that accompany such an effort, taken into cognizance of the fact that worldview is rooted in the very nature of human person, as the foundation of his/her existence. The essence of worldview lies in the inner core of the human person: the mind and the heart (Sire, 2009). Therefore, reflective practice, self knowledge and self awareness, are the initial steps of this worldview demolition journey and effort toward eradicating erroneous ideas on leadership and followership held by many Nigerians. Through conscious examination, the citizens could be able to identify the erroneous worldviews they possess, and the necessary changes that need to happen. With determination and moral courage, which according to Kidder (2003), “is a commitment to moral principles, an awareness of the danger in supporting those principles and a willing endurance of that danger” (p.7), Nigerians can strive toward total eradication of erroneous leadership worldview and practice, with the aim of replacing it with servant leadership model that grounds leadership in servanthood, selflessness, values, and ethical and moral principles.

Servant leadership model is a leadership style that echoes the necessity and the relevancy of leaders serving the people they lead as a matter of priority. Then, through conscious effort, the leader aspires/proceeds to lead (Greenleaf, 1991). This leadership approach is sharply in contrast with other leadership styles because of its emphasis on serving first, and then, on the process of serving, one proceeds to lead. The “servant first” concept of leadership evident in servant leadership model, is clearly the opposite of a “leader first” idea of leadership (Greenleaf, 1991; Sendjaya, 2015). The servant first concept of leadership is grounded in both the philosophical and the theological foundations of leadership. John Locke (1986) argued that to lead is to serve. In the gospel of Mathew 20:26, Jesus asserted: “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” This is the reconstruction in leadership worldviews that need to happen in Nigeria, a leadership model that locates servanthood as the starting point of authentic leadership.

From pragmatic and realistic perspectives, waiting for Nigerians to demolish and reconstruct their worldviews, to align with right information and right context on the meaning of leadership may take forever. Nigeria is a country where almost every citizen has one form of religious belief or the other, with Christianity and Islam being the most prominent. Yet, the lack of values, ethics and morals in that country is beyond comprehension, and is extremely difficult to explain. For example, Hunter (2010) asserted that Christians should maintain faithful presence in the world. By faithful presence, Hunter (2010) implied that Christians should be present to one another’s needs regardless of their beliefs, and as well, be faithful to the task of being godlike in the community. Hunter (2010) defined faithful presence as “a constructive resistance that seeks new patterns of social organization that challenge, undermine, and otherwise diminish oppression, injustice, enmity, corruption, and in turn, encourage harmony, fruitfulness, abundance, wholeness, beauty, joy, security and well being” (Hunter, 2010, pp.247-248). Nigeria will be like heaven on earth if Christians for example, and other genuine religions in Nigeria, are able to maintain faithful presence in that country, by living according to ethical and moral principles, which could translate to making Nigeria a better place.

But, let us leave religion alone for now. And, let us leave fantasy alone for now too. From a practical perspective, if Nigerians want immediate and expedited process of demolition and reconstruction of worldview that will translate to a workable leadership and followership, they need to focus on the effective and practical implementation of the rules of law at all levels, regardless of power or position. Here, I argue that in order to achieve a quick change, or at least, to improve the issue of erroneous worldview in leadership and followership in Nigeria, the strategy should not be based on trying to change Nigerian worldviews alone, but also, there is a need for transformation, a shift from the status quo, and the adoption of effective legal system that holds everyone accountable. If the laws apply to everyone regardless of class or status, regardless of power, privilege, or wealth, just as is the case in most western societies, then you will see a drastic change in behaviour and attitude of most Nigerians. With time, that change could translate to a change in worldview. If Nigerians are serious about implementation of the law, and prosecution of corruption and other crimes, you will see a quick change in behaviour especially in leadership office. Worldview such as the “the king/the leader cannot go to jail” could disappear with time. But, where are the honest people to implement the laws in Nigeria with honesty and integrity? I will leave the answer to that question to your bright minds. The reason why the West is so successful with the implementation of their law is due to the consequences attached to the breaking of the law. Those consequences attached to the breaking of the law by some western countries’ which hold everyone accountable, regardless of fame and power, are what motivate majority of them to keep law. I submit that the demolition of  erroneous worldviews on leadership and followership held by majority of Nigerians, and the reconstruction of ideas and worldviews that are grounded in values and ethical principles, could translate to leaders who are ethical and effective in their office, as well as citizens who are ethical, and who effectively carry out and fulfil their civic responsibilities. This transformation could happen quickly with the effective implementation of the rule of law that holds everyone equally accountable. This is my contribution to leadership and followership issues in Nigeria.



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