Speaking to professional bodies has for me always been an opportunity to evangelize and to domicile blame.
Ever frightened of judging others but always burdened in conscience to speak truth to power I have taken each chance to both prod on the mission of the generation of professionals and to chide, because it seemsin my experience that there is a failure to understand the mission of the generation, lest history remember our time, as a date in infamy.
My mission here is to challenge on the imperative of leadership. The burden and the duty to lead is one that the professional grouping should not take lightly.
This is particularly because of the role of professional bodies and business associations in institutions building. Seeing how keyinstitutions are to human progress you undermine progress when you underplay the role of those critical to nation building and human progress.
In my work, I have emphasized a number of variables critical for progress. Twothat are particularly of interest here are “institutions and culture”. Both are very critical to human progress.
They are strategic to the six variables framework of interdependent variables that make up theGrowth Driver Framework that are anchor for my 2006 book “WHY NATIONS ARE POOR”.
But it was eight years earlier in the book “MANAGING UNCERTAINTY: COMPETITIONand STRATEGY in EMERGING ECONOMIES” that I first tried to establish the link between institutions, the competitive Strategy of firms and Economic Performance.
In 1998,influenced very much by Douglass North’s writingsand his 1990 book on institutions,Institutional Change and Economic Performance I placed a big premium on how business associations and professional bodies enabled the evolution of institutions.
Even though the level of my analysis in 1998 was at the interface between the micro, firm level, and the macro; and my 2006 effort essentially at the macro, I have remained passionate about the role of professionals in not only leading the country to greater prosperity in the economic realm but also to more stable social and political culture.
Appropriately I am focused as much on culture today as I was on institutions years ago. It is a subject on which I disagree very much with the Peruvian Economist Hernando De Soto whose work on institutions and development in his much admired book The mystery Of Capital, I am in much admiration.
I will not bother today about the question of whether culture or institutions matter more for progress but choose instead to deal with the question of leadership and how professionals deal with the imperative of leadership in both building institutions and setting the tone of culture and why Nigeria struggles because itsprofessionals have not lived up to the call of their learning.
People like Stephen R. Covey are owed much for reminding us of two dimensions critical to effectiveness in leadership; knowledge and a sense of service. Professionals would normally be people of knowledge and where the training establish certain norms there is ahigher likelihood of a sense of service in a professional than one not so exposed. This imposes a duty to lead on the professional.
John Maxwell one of the more renowned leadership gurus in the world offers us a number ofLeadership traits drawn from Ps.15 and the life of King David. One critical leadership attribute is speaking truth. As a young graduate student in the policy sciences in the 1970’s I was much influenced by Aaron Wildavsky at the University of California, Berkely, who wrote the book ‘Speaking Truth to Power. This ties in with Maxwell and true leadership. It is not surprising, based on this that Nigeria is far from its potential because you seldom hear people, safe a few iconoclasts, speaking truth to power. We do not make desired progress because people who should tell them the truth consider truth too risky for their interests.
This is so partly because of the obsession with the size of bank account in popular culture in today’s Nigeria. Rich men fear truth. They fear that being seen around truth will lead power to threaten either the money they made yesterday from questionable means, or block the more money that could come tomorrow even if it were from impeccable means. So rich men belong only to the party of those in power, even though they pretend to be non-partisan. Those anxious for wealth also tend to sell off the interest of others to advance theirs, one of the opposites of the traits of effective leadership identified by Maxwell. This is why true leaders seldom aspire to great riches. I have innumerable examples from my personal experience.
When 14 years ago I began producing and hosting the television series Patitos Gang I had no idea it would have the impact I hear from testimonies around the world whenever I meet Nigerians. Indeed interviewers for the Executive MBA programme at the Lagos Business School a decade ago say that many of the applicants say Patitos Gang inspired their desire to apply to the programme. On more than one occasion a very rich man called me to celebrate the talk show. When I then said to them the show could use some sponsorship, given its wide reach that was advertising value for money, they would cough and make some comments about people being so candid on the show they could be seen to sponsor antigovernment views. I would explain it was a market place of ideas and that we would joyfully welcome pro-government people, they would make an excuse. I tried hard to find people to speak for all sides but the simple truth is that the rich or those so desiring fear truth lest it threaten their wealth. When I pointed out that what little support we had in fact came from government agencies; BPE under El Rufai, NCC under Ndukwe and NMA under Agu, they would slip away.
A tragic example of money diminishing leadership is in an ethnic group I come from. Before the war the Igbos were known as a market dominant group. But their real leaders, like Z C obi of the Ibo State Union were not the wealthy traders. And the Igbos protected their interests well and prospered. After the war having money almost became a cult. People sought positions of leadership and used it to advance personal economic interests. Today Igbo elite are hardly considered in strategic matters because many believe you can easily pay one of the “leaders for sale’ to be your Chief megaphone with little consideration for greater purpose. A story told once about a meeting of the PDP leadership in which no Igbo leader was present and it was cavalierly suggested that one can be invited and given money to champion the outcome of the meeting.
This is why society cannot be saved by rich men. Professionals who are content with just enough income for a decent life and are moved more by accomplishment than money hold the key to progress. They can more readily speak the truth. When my friend Ben Murray-Bruce asked me years ago why I hated money, pointing to those he believed I made wealthy, I told him it was by choice. To build a cadre of great entrepreneurs of wealth, who create jobs was bigger value than wealth that would blind me to truth. To explain that I wrote the book Business Angel as a Missionary showing case studies of some of the enterprises I contributed to their emergence. I was ‘not rich’ by choice because I saw greater meaning in the other mission even when I found nothing wrong with rich men.
In a sense therefore true professional are light of the world and salt of the earth. If you should lose your saltiness, especially by becoming obsessed with the size of your bank account all be lost for the country leadership that can shape culture and set the tone of human progress.
In Accra , on his first visit to Africa as United States President, Barack Obama said that what Africa needed was Strong institutions, not strong men. If our professionals can build institutions that set boundaries and moderate the “Predatory acts of public officials” as was suggested in the Emerging Economies Environment (3E) framework from managing uncertainty in 1998, you will have lived the duty to lead. Nigeria needs leaders. Please lead.
Pat Utomi Political Economist and professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for values in leadership.