I spent my eid el fitr reading literature on some of the world’s one time powerful men – Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. This was not because they are my inspiration figures in any way but because I wanted to have a clear understanding of how they maneuvered to become the world’s most powerful leaders of their time; and why they later one earned themselves a position as the most hated men who have ever lived on earth till today. Interestingly, both men rose to power as uncontested darlings of Europe and the world at large but were later stoned to death like chicken thieves by their very own citizens. Borrowing from William Shakespeare’s description of the seven stages of human life, I think there are also seven ages of a leader – the first being that where a leader is more or less an embodiment of fresh ideas, charisma, action, strength, focus and drive. The seventh stage then describes a time where a leader is exhausted, has lost focus of long term goals, communicates poorly with his or her followers and is driven by fear of failure. The truth is that almost all leaders in the world reflect the characteristics of the first age of the leadership cycle when they have just taken up office. Some wade faster to the seventh stage other take a very long time – a decade, a quarter of a century or even half a century.
Nevertheless, taking you back to the once ‘all powerful’ Italian Duce, Mussolini spent about a quarter of a century in power in the early twentieth century. During his later years in power, he took over most of his government ministries and directly supervised as many as seven departments simultaneously. He single-handedly headed the all-powerful Fascist Party and the armed local fascist militia, the “Blackshirts”. Mussolini progressively dismantled virtually all constitutional and conventional restraints on his power. He was no longer responsible to Parliament and could only be removed from office by the Grand Council of Fascism, a body he had personally appointed made up of his party henchmen and relatives. Much as Mussolini could have succeeded in keeping power in his own hands and preventing the emergence of any “rival”, he descended into what usually consumes everyday leaders – micro management. He got subsumed into directly managing every segment of his government and got consumed with the trivial and unimportant aspects of his state – he lost sight of what was important.
In the contemporary world, we have so many examples of such state leaders especially in Africa who have attempted to manage all aspects of government business but have ended up getting sidetracked from the long term strategic state goals. Recent events in Uganda explain this scenario better – the president seems to have lately defined himself as the sole figure of ‘solution’ in the country. It would be rather different if the Presidency attempted to identify itself as capable of solving all crises that come up. In other words the presidency might be powerless but the president is all powerful. When the teachers, traders, doctors, journalists, lawyers, have issues in their respective lines of duty, it’s not their immediate supervising authorities that have to deal with their problems but rather it takes the direct intervention of the president. Well, this would have been branded ‘effectiveness’ if the president was providing conclusive interventions but in a situation where the president’s intervention is widely perceived as a mere ‘ceremonial’ gesture, then it paints a different picture. Actually some people could possibly have been right to think that some government officials such as ministers are not professionally trusted by their appointing authorities to preside over ministerial business.
Leaders must discern the importance and the need for the existence of structures as well as credible people to work with. If a leader cannot trust his or her appointees to tackle the range of state issues, then possibly one could aptly presuppose that, that leader has crossed into the seventh age of the leadership cycle. As political analyst, Gwada Ogot puts it, “no single leader can be the all solving hammer”.