Leadership: three qualities for the 21st century leader in Africa

It was nearly five years ago that my daughter made me a father, and through parenting her and my son, I am reminded of three of the key qualities needed not only for parenthood, but also for being a leader in Africa in the 21st century.

One of my first lessons of fatherhood was about the merits of empathy. In embracing my daughter’s education to ensure that each day finds her knowledge further than the one before, I have realised how much I can learn from observing and absorbing her exponential growth. That ability to feel the pain of a child that cannot voice it, to reciprocate the child’s smile, is a choice one makes. I could not have done it without learning patience and empathy.Learning from my children has shaped my thinking around leadership and brought me back to the ingredients my late parents exposed me to. Empathy is a critical tool for any leader. It ought to ground and connect the individual to the constant changes in the realities that the world presents us with. When Kenyans stood for Kenyans in the wake of a disaster, it was the empathy that raised the resources to arrest socio-economic decline.

Another lesson I’ve learned as a parent is around expanding the knowledge of my self and others; indeed, there is always more to learn. My wife and I regularly read to our children, we travel to new places to help lay the foundation of their curious minds. Curiosity invites us to become attentive to the changing nature of the world. Informed knowledge is a critical instrument of transformation. In the pursuit of knowledge, we embrace our own limit to understand that answers are found in the ability of others to share their knowledge and commitment to transformation. For me, this is best demonstrated by Kenyan Professor Miriam Were, whom sowed the seeds of community health in Africa thus making us accept that it happens in the nation when it happens in the community.

There have been many times that I have been humbled by the realisation that I do not always, have the answers to the questions my children ask. I need to seek it for them or encourage them to find it themselves. I am realising the importance of planting the seeds of transition and independence at a young age because one day they will leave home to spread their wings further. They need to know how to seek knowledge on their own, how to be leaders on their own.Similarly, as leaders, we have to prepare the people who look up to us to know how to continue on when we are no longer the leaders, to know they can be self-reliant, self-sufficient and resourceful. To know they themselves can become the leaders.

In my reading, I came across a definition of leadership that suggests that it is to go forth and die. I have pondered this interpretation and wonder if it means to constantly prepare current and future generation to accept to die in the role and renew in a new one. If so, empathy and knowledge, in my view, best prepare any leader to contribute meaningfully to our communities across Africa.

With youth blossoming across the continent, empathy, knowledge and knowing when to leave are the inter-generational batons that will keep Africa in line with the transformation its more than one billion people aspire to.