Between the private and the general: A directional view of leadership

by | May 19, 2017 12:40 am

Recall a fortnight ago, I offered my words to you short of prodding. I would jump off a previous alley, counting my steps quite calmly but happily down my preferred lane, where I would begin a series on leading and leadership. The inflection is in my words. For me, delivering on a promise is beyond the expression of a normative statement, somewhat intended to please. No. It defines me without a word left out. So, when my words go out, wahala, in countless cruel small-sized forms, tiptoes in, inhabiting my space until I live out all the letters in the line. I am feeling gradually relieved now only because I am keeping to it. I am really excited, just penning this to you – my dear readers – hoping this Bohemian window might add to our many ideas of what leadership should be about. If it hereafter predominates others in terms of a new viewpoint, oh great; if not, well… more work. The delight is bi-focal – keeping my words and enjoying the discourse on a much narrower lane. It can be quite refreshing discovering that the tighter lanes gift broader ecstasy.

Only very few things have held me in a durable and compelling spell since I was a starry-eyed kid. I am not some fleeting bloke though. One of them is the military institution. The artillery-carrying men had my deepest predilection as a head-in-the-clouds teenager. One choice suffers no paradox; the military was that single pick for me for many years. I never considered the others. I embraced (still do) the institution with the soul of my being, in all honesty. I dreamt about it, I coveted being a soldier for many years. I completely doubt if their starched khaki-green uniform held the torch for me. I’d rather say it was their patriotic coloration. Sadly, the military did not choose me. It slammed its doors in my face, leaving me dazed, frazzled and utterly dazzled the day the selection exercise results were released, that was in 1991. Well, that story would be for another day.

The military – as some national institution across countries – has gifted us many pronounced things – great ideas, and culture. And, the utmost of them, for me, is its nationalistic fervour. Like all other national institutions, the military unfortunately has occasionally let loose some of its uglier sides on us. Somehow it calls for an elaborate debate what this great institution has done for my dear country. A former head of state often says the military kept us together as one country; undivided by that unnecessary and silly fraternal conflict called the civil war. But I often ask, who caused it? Who disturbed the sleep at a few seconds beyond midnight, on January 14th 1966? The hapless ‘bloody’ civilians, huh! The rest is some sad account. Lately, the military has done much for the image and territorial integrity of our nation. Ask that lunatic Shekau and his still-birthed ISWAP dream.

Well, there are many affable sides to the military – its sense of organisation, its ideas of discipline, thoughts on strategy and its ‘idealistic’ portrayal of leadership. This piece intends to dwell on the military’s sense of leadership. The military gave us organised leadership, teaching us how to bring together a body of people into a logical formation to achieve a common purpose. It was the first human institution that brought men together for some joint objectives. It’s in this sense that most rulers (were) are customarily seen through the window of the military, as in commander-in-chief. Every king or ruler has jurisdictional boundary. So, the organisation of men and materials for the defence of these jurisdictional boundaries came first before the organisation of men and materials for food production in a communal sense.

Old as the military’s leadership ideas are, some are still quite relevant even in many of today’s settings. Bounded authority in line with seniority is one of them. That is, a certain rank covers a certain degree of influence over a certain number of soldiers or a certain arena of jurisdiction. On the other hand, some of them are in quick reverse, more especially in civilian or corporate settings. A clear example is its command and control dogma, particularly when it’s applied in its original rigid dictates.

One of the most hidden secrets of the military’s message on leadership is exposed in its ranks. Words are not just words; they are somehow names for ideas. So, a name or a title oftentimes reveals a lot more than its vocal sound. It’s the same even with the military, as its ranks let slip the directional nature of its leadership ideas. Just take another look at its titles. From the base of its pyramidal ranks, we have the Privates whilst the General sits at the tip (shift aside the title of Field Marshall. It’s a creation of the British). A comparative view of their synonyms is certain to disclose much more. Whilst private has words such as secluded, isolated, remote, sequestered, cloistered, set apart, reserved and secretive aptly serving as substitutes, general, on the other hand, enjoys replacement words such overall, universal, all-purpose, wide-ranging, broad, common, broad-spectrum. Leadership, therefore, according to the military, means first leading the self before leading the many. That is, the general taking charge and responsibility over the many who only assume responsibility over their individual selves. And, not vice versa as is often the case in the typical Nigerian milieu. A general is not worth his title where he fails to consider the impact/ import of his action(s) on the many privates in his stead.

Well, in a different tone, the excellence or mediocrity an individual delivers as a leader is shaped by his perspective. Unfortunately, most of us view leadership through its corridors of power, privilege and prestige whilst totally neglecting its service and responsibility leanings. If leading the lots turns out quite exacting or exciting, it might be couched in the leader’s perspective. A wrong orientation is certain to give wrong outcomes. If for a moment, we fall on the backrest of our seats, take deep breath. Think. Is leading a call to serve or the salacious enjoyment of power, privileges and prestige? Our answers to this question will help give definition to the anxiety or fun we experience while leading. As for me, it’s a General serving the varied needs of the Privates (many). It’s so unburdening. I am thoroughly drenched in the conviction that leadership defined in contrast to serving others is sure to prove inadequate for the time. See you in a fortnight!


Tony Monye

Managing Partner, Rham Durham Consulting Ltd – A leadership development, policy, marketing, strategy and human development consulting firm.