On leadership

There is considerable debate in academic and policy circles on the type of leadership and managerial capacities required for overall economic and social development. Successful leaders are often able to combine a set of personality traits such as drive and desire to lead, integrity, self-confidence, intelligence, adaptability, assertiveness and emotional stability.

A particularly common distinction in the academic literature, and one that has attracted considerable attention in Malawi in recent years, is between transactional versus transformational leadership.

Transactional leadership is typically characterized by an exchange of favours between leaders and their followers that function as a reward or punishment for good and bad performance. Leaders specify what followers should do. And if such actions are not undertaken in the desired manner, therewards may be withheld.

By contrast, transformational leadership involves trying to unite people around a common purpose. Transformational leaders typically act as role models and are able to motivate and inspire their followers. They are not only enthusiastic and optimistic, but also communicate clear and realistic expectations while demonstrating a commitment to a strong and shared vision for the future. Followers are left with the impression that their needs are of greater importance than their leaders, and that ethical conduct is expected at all levels of society.

In reality, there are several types of leadership between the transactional and transformational categories. And despitenumerous efforts at defining the term, “leadership” has proved difficult to measure. The actions of leaders are often shaped by the political culture of the country, the nature of organisational/political party structure, revenue generation and resource allocation challenges, and personal goals.

In recent years, no politician in Africa has received more attention for her/his leadership skills than Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president. Mr. Kagame is considered by many to be charismatic and the undisputed leader of his party – credited with single-handedly transforming Rwanda in the aftermath of a horrendous genocide. Indeed, he is perhaps one of the best recognised African leaders on the world stage and there is considerable talk in international development circles of the so-called “Rwandan model” of development – despite being small, poor and land-locked, the country has made important strides in improving access to health and education. In addition to Kigali being perhaps the cleanest city in the world, national electricity coverage is rapidly increasing and the government is prioritising investments in renewable energy.

Despite his many successes, however, Mr. Kagame is routinely criticized for exhibiting dictatorial tendencies and for curtailing press freedom as well as the rights of his rivals in opposition parties.

He won landslide elections, promised not to run for a third term, only to change his mind and change the constitution. While his supporters praise his transformational leadership skills and claim there is no one to replace him, others argue that hard-earned democratic freedoms should not be sacrificed in the pursuit of economic development.

As the May 2019 election approaches in Malawi, there is now considerable talk of the type of leadership required to jump-start development and reduce poverty in the country. The following questions appear particularly relevant: Are Malawian leaders able to place the national interest above their own? Do they articulate a compelling agenda and a shared vision for the country? Does Malawi need “heroes” and “champions”, and if so, who are these individuals? n

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