Leading To Serve


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how youth can synergize to create a better future for Ethiopia as a country and for Africa as a continent. Parallels can be made not because all African countries share the same problem and need the same solution but simply because the country’s youth-laden demography mirrors that of Africa’s. This article will discuss more concretely one aspect of what could be done.

Obviously, there is no silver bullet that will solve such broad and complex socio-economic problems as youth unemployment and poverty. They are actually more manifestations of other underlying issues. The solutions to such complex problems often are complex, multi-layered and multifaceted. So in this article, I will try to discuss just one of the many elements we need to bring forth for unleashing the potential of youth synergies, and that is leadership.

Good leadership is key for the large population of young people in Ethiopia. Like any large object moving at a quick velocity, the direction will be of paramount importance. It is more important where a car is heading than what color it is. In social settings, the direction is usually set by leaders. However, our examples of good leaders are few and far between.

Unfortunately, leadership in many countries is used as a tool for self-interest. True and great leaders, however, are really meant to serve. They are meant to set their companies, organizations and their country on a course towards the best possible future. In large ships, the ‘rudder’ that sets the direction for the vessel is quite small in proportion to the size of the ship. Interestingly, the rudder is also placed at the back, behind the propeller that pushes the entire vessel forward. The ship can move forward with just the propellers, but it will not head to its destination without the rudder.

Youth are the propellers and also the main parts of the resource-laden ship we call Ethiopia, and our leaders are or should be, the rudders. Like the rudders, good leaders do not always have to be at the forefront taking credit and enjoying fame. Great leaders realize that the potential of a country lies in the people and not only in their own abilities. They believe in us as well. And they, therefore, help us be the best versions of ourselves, so we are able to propel the ‘ship’ forward as a society. They understand they are role models setting an example for those to follow, but at the same time also serve with humility. In essence, guiding, directing and enabling as they make sure that our individual energy, creativity, and commitment is harnessed. Not only for our own good as individuals but that it is also aligned with the collective vision we have as a country.

Leaders also exist in all facets of life and society. They are there amidst us in our homes, in our social circles as well as at our religious and or philosophic gatherings.

In a country with 70 million young people, imagine how many leaders could be groomed to bring out the best out of the rest. Not leading with pride, but with humility. They lead with small gestures of justice, patience and respect.

I argue that for young people to create synergy and become the engines of change and transformation, we need to foster good leadership that is selfless and powerful. So that two things can happen:

1) That the current leaders really become excellent and selfless stewards of responsibility and power. 2) That the people with influence (young and old) groom and enable the leaders today and those of tomorrow.

We need to encourage good leadership today – in all facets of our society. And we also need to invest in the leaders of tomorrow – encouraging them, guiding them and leading by example. We need to inspire, empower and enable young people to become exemplary leaders – with principles and values that transcend societal and also national boundaries.

The result will be a youth that is vibrant and ready to solve problems in their communities. It will result in a youth that fills gaps in society and innovates for the future. They will be social leaders, entrepreneurial leaders, cultural leaders, sporting leaders, opinion leaders and philosophical leaders. We need them all.

With a pool of 70 million young people, the thought of the potential for good leaders excites me.

Innovation and positive impact happen when people work together in altruism. There are challenges, however, in fostering good leadership today and also making sure good leaders are empowered for the future. First, the threat current leaders feel towards budding young leaders. And second, that some facets of society and some people – would like to force their views on others in destructive ways. Self-seeking is the ultimate peril to good leadership and therefore also the future prospect of Ethiopia’s youth.

Therefore, good leaders need to realize that by working together with future leaders their bequest can be inter-generational and go beyond their lifetime. They also need to be able to create an understanding with people that may have differing opinions by enabling transformational dialogue. This sort of leadership can set an example of how to develop a legacy, and at the same time how to negotiate with people that have different opinions through respect and understanding.

Not all of us may hold a position of power, but all of us have a sphere of influence somewhere – be it with our families, friends and or at our workplace. We need to understand that our influence can only become better by working together with the influencers of tomorrow. In the process, we can also try to be more understanding by engaging in meaningful and courageous dialogue with those that hold different views – even those that mean to force these upon us.

This way we can empower good leadership in our homes, in our schools, in our workplace and ultimately within ourselves. Good leaders always seek to self-improve knowing their shortcomings are opportunities to learn and become better. The potential is in all of us; we just need someone to see it and encourage us to bring it forth. We need someone to set an example and direct us. Like a rudder of a large sheep, good leaders lead and do not boss around. They are not made by organizations and institutions; they are already in our midst and in our backyards waiting to be coached, empowered and transformed.

I believe that one facet of the solution is for young people to have good leaders working with them but at the same time seeking out and developing good leaders among them. As they let their light shine, they will enable others to do the same bringing grassroots transformation.

Like the small rudder of a large ship, good leadership delicately directs us to the right path. It sets an example and then enables us to become better – which in the end will not only benefit ourselves but everyone around us and eventually also Ethiopia.

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