Leadership Edu-torial: Letters to a Young African

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Please note this is adapted from a series of columns written by Segun Olagunju in 2011 for YMS Magazine in Johannesburg.

“Moreover, leadership is not by itself good or bad, but it is how we use our leadership that will determine whether our leadership is determined to be positive or negative.”

As of last year I had been living in Washington, DC, capital of the United States, for almost 5 years. I had worked for a bank and two non-profits while there in “Obamaland”, as I jokingly call it; my last job there was as director of a financial literacy program that focused on teaching youth how to use money and credit wisely. I was on the edge of DC’s line, about to be priced out of the city like so many others, and then one day I received an email from a good friend about a teaching fellowship opportunity in South Africa.

Tip#1: it pays off to share your dreams and goals with people who care about you.

Four eyes are better than two.

Immediately it piqued my interest, and after doing my due diligence I applied. I was selected, sold my stuff, donated my car, and was off pursuing my passion and purpose. And now, I often tell my friends that nothing compares to the hidden gem I have discovered in South Africa.

This country, your country is beautiful, not simply because of its marbled malls, or towering tolls, or magnificent mansions, though this infrastructure rivals and surpasses in some cases what I’ve known in the States. Rather, I see the beauty in the pure aesthetic pleasure from the undulating hills to the looming mountains, the shark and penguin waters to the picturesque grasslands, it is undeniable the wonders you see in the land.

And silently there’s a pride that wells up inside when one realizes that even before the advent of colonization and other foreign influences this land was and has always been — stunningly spectacular. So it dawns on me, like a dull bulb that has been on the whole time but never acknowledged; that Africa is beautiful, that there is a real unquestionable beauty that comes from us, from our people, from our Motherland. Yet, I believe strongly that bad leadership is the single most influential obstacle that has kept many of our communities and countries from reaching their potential in the last two generations. We believe all leaders should be agents of positive change.

What will unlock this gem for the entire world to see? I believe it will be Africa’s people. Especially young people, who commit themselves each day to courageous acts of leadership both when it is convenient and not. In the coming months, I will share how we approach the development of leaders at African Leadership Academy. However, first we should tackle the issue of how to define leadership. You may think you already know what leadership is all about, but hopefully if you read enough you might learn one new thing about how you can be a leader. If I were to ask you, “What is leadership” you might respond as many of my students do by saying: it is power, or control, or influence. But at the core, I believe leadership is as simple as being able to influence someone to believe or act a certain way.

Now you might be saying to yourself, Mr Olagunju can’t really be too bright, because anyone can do that. Well you would be right (not so much about me not being too bright) but, rather, about the notion that according to this definition anyone could lead.

Tip #2 – Anyone can exert leadership anywhere, at any time, at any   age.

You can exert leadership with your siblings, with your family, your friends, even online. Moreover, leadership is not by itself good or bad, but it is how we use our leadership that will determine whether our leadership is determined to be positive or negative. The really hard part though is being able to distinguish what good vs. bad leadership is – for instance, how could you make an evaluation of whether Julius Malema is an example of a good leader or not? I will share some tools that might help you tackle that question in my next conversation with you.

In the meantime, if you have questions about leadership that you would like me to answer or address for next time please comment. Cheers!

Segun Olagunju is the architect and visionary behind African Leadership Academy’s renowned Entrepreneurial Leadership curriculum. He is a leading strategic advisor and executive trainer to organizations and corporates on all things leadership and entrepreneurship. He is a certified coach and is currently pioneering 21st Century skills for educators in the African context. Connect with him on Linkedin.


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