Reviewed by Tawa Braimah, Editor SIETAR Switzerland newsletter
At the risk of falling into the alluring trap of methodological nationalism, I would like to say that, for me, growing up in a typical African society like Ghana’s, it was clear that the concept of leadership hinged on hierarchy. According to my reflections on leadership as a young working female adult in Ghana, being a leader comes with age, experience, divine calling (in religious settings) and, to a significant extent, gender. These are not moot points; a leader is respected and revered and is the custodian of all authority that comes with the position occupied. I would not go as far as suggesting that this is the case across the continent, but similarities in the socio-political and religio-cultural structures of most African societies lend credence to this assumption. It does not help, either, that the rather scarce literature on the concept of leadership on the continent tends to narrowly focus on the political.
This book, however, gives the reader pause to reflect on the changing perceptions of leadership across a broad spectrum of sectors in five western and eastern African countries: Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania. Using a case study approach, the book provides in-depth insight into the performance of leadership in specific socio-economic spheres of the economies of the countries surveyed. What makes this book a refreshingly inspiring departure from the reductive scholarship on leadership in Africa is that it draws on the lived experiences of people in these countries and their interactions with the concept.
The case study approach adapted by the authors of this work offers an experiential look at a wide variety of leadership styles from the point of view of people actively involved in the process. By broadening the pool of resources for the book, it has given voice to the silent key players in the leadership process in these countries, such as civic leaders, both women and men and young and old.
Each of the three parts of the book delves into various aspects of leadership, establishing preambles that give readers a deeper appreciation of leadership not just as a concept, but as an evolving process subject to change and adaptability–two of the major themes of the book. Part One sets the stage for the conversation by discussing the key concepts and frameworks relating to global leadership. Drawing on a range of definitions of leadership, the authors reflect on the multiplexity of the concept. This first part of the book also dissects existing literature on the subject as it pertains to Africa and points to the gaping vacuum in scholarship, which tends to be more prescriptive than descriptive in its reflections on the interaction between leaders and followers, with limited work being done on civic leaders, women leaders and youth.
This weaves in neatly with the final chapter in this part, which takes a critical look at the diversity of the social, political, economic situations and of the demographics of the countries that the book evolves around. As unique as these aspects of society are to the individual countries involved, the authors identify the commonalities in the decisions facing leaders across the continent, in response to the fast technological and demographic transformation they are confronted with.
From this rich background, the second part of the book logically launches us into the crux of the conversation. The chapters in this part are the results of collaborative work with local players in the specific aspects of the economy that the case studies focus on. This gives the reader the opportunity to look at how leadership plays out in those areas from an authentically experiential point of view. I was particular relieved to find that the cases were largely devoid of the over-flogged and typically quantitative elements of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions.
The case studies cover five different sectors, each focusing on the enactment of leadership in a specific area, taking into account the historical, political, economic, socio-cultural, and technological advancements in these countries. In the case of Ghana, for instance, where the discussion centres on young leaders in science, the chapter starts off by situating the field of science in the broader socio-economic paradigm peculiar to Ghana. It then proceeds to look at the perception of hierarchy within the context of national culture, mainly focusing on organizational culture within institutions of learning and entrepreneurship and at the grassroot level. It tapers down to the main findings and shows how leadership is performed and perceived by those interviewed.
The other four cases studied all take this format, teasing out the key elements of leadership development through personal experiences and insights from an encompassing demographic of people involved in the leadership process. What we learn from these case studies and the holistic way in which they were developed is that there is a general sense of dissatisfaction with the current state of leadership, especially emanating from young people. There are concerns about corruption and how it erodes the integrity of leaders and the faith of their followers. On the flip side, we also get to see that there is a steady shift towards people-oriented leadership, a desire for less hierarchy and a need to give back. Here is an example of one of the shared experiences of a leader in Ghana:
Senior female leader, Personal experience: Community-based health programmes.
My work experience as a community and hospital pharmacist after my relocation to Ghana from the UK exposed me to gaps in healthcare delivery. This ignited my interest in development work, particularly neglected tropical diseases and maternal and newborn health. I found a mentor who worked in the area of development and with some guidance and support established a non-profit organization to run community-based public health programmes, build the local capacity of healthcare providers and advocate for improved maternal healthcare delivery in Ghana. Mrs Lynda Arthur, Regional Lead, Pharmaceutical Company, (pg. 123).
Similarly, this young leader talks of his personal leadership style, which speaks to the general shift towards people-oriented leadership style that the book highlights.
Young male leader, Personal experience: “Important not to think you are above those you lead”
Growing up in a slum, a lot of people now look up to me. I try to live my life to be an inspiration for others, and I make a conscious effort to be someone that people can look up to. A good leader must also be “in the trenches” with his/her team. For example, when I go on fieldwork trips with a driver, I make a point to eat with the driver and other support staff. It is important not to appear to think you are “better” than those you lead. Mr Godwin Anabire, PhD student, (pg. 124).
These examples, together with various similar experiences from leaders across the board, serve to buttress the style of leadership that the book discovers, i.e. doing good or giving back to the society. My personal reflections on this book got me thinking about my millennial friends back home and the various ways in which they interact with the leadership process. The more thought I put into it, the more I realise the many ways in which these trends are manifested. On a continent with a highly youthful population, these emerging trends serve as a reassurance and bode hope for the future of its people.
Beyond contributing immensely to filling the gap in the growing literature on leadership in Africa, this book offers a reflective insight into the diversity of leadership styles on the continent and how they are increasingly adapting to meet modern demands. It offers a rounded view of the concept of leadership involving leaders, followers, and the contexts within which they interact. As more leaders adapt to changes in their environment, there is the need for these lessons to be passed down to the younger generation by identifying role models and developing mentorship programs. The authors proffer this solution in their conclusion:
Frequently mentioned in our study is the need for role models. Therefore, Leadership Development programmes in Africa would need to include memoirs and experiences of African leaders that could serve as role models: from pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial times. In this regard, the self-learning approach used by the African Leadership University (ALU) in their Leadership Development programmes and the type of programme sponsored by the British Council (see Bolden & Kirk, 2005) serve as examples of how Leadership Development in Africa can take this hybrid approach. Building confidence and self-awareness are also crucial aspects, which need to be built
into Leadership Development programmes, (pg. 331)
As a start, the case studies and the major findings in this book have been developed into an eight-part series, the ‘Leadership in Africa’ seminar, which was launched at Pwani University, Kilifi, Kenya in March 2020. The seminar series uses the case studies discussed in the book, as well as practical exercises, to provide an interactive leadership training that prepares students for active leadership roles within their communities and beyond.
This book is published by Palgrave MacMillan