Ngafuan: How to lead wisely

Ngafuan is a former foreign minister of Liberia

Ngafuan is a former foreign minister of Liberia

Many individuals who have been moved by a particular speech or speeches I have delivered in the past have been privately requesting copies of the speech(es) for their own reading and enlightenment.

I have therefore been graciously sharing my speeches, my poems, or some other intellectual property with scores of interested individuals upon request. But in order to cater to the growing demand, I have finally decided to publish a book that will comprise selected speeches that I have delivered over time on various themes of relevance. Work is far advanced on this project and in the not too distant future, the book will be launched.

In the meantime, I have decided to be intermittently sharing interesting excerpts of the soon to be published book with the general public. Today, I share with you some of my thoughts on how to lead with wisdom, which comes from the keynote address I delivered at the induction of officers-elect of the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU) on July 17, 2015 in the Auditorium of the University of Liberia. Although the speech was delivered at the inauguration of student leaders, my thoughts on how to lead wisely is directed at anyone who is embarking on a leadership challenge in whatever institution – private or public. See Below:

Ngafuan On How to Lead Wisely

I will definitely urge you, my young brothers and sisters, to follow the footstep of wise King Solomon and seek ye first the kingdom of wisdom and all other things will be added unto to you. Leading wisely is critical to success in any leadership challenge.

What are some elements of leading wisely? I do not possess all the answers to this question, but my humble experience in leadership both as a student and a government official coupled with my reading of history and current events has given me the basis to share with you, young comrades, my thoughts:

1. Don’t proceed as if the world began on the day you assumed office. In other words, there is a past that you inherited; therefore, to lead wisely , you must learn lessons from the past. But as you look to the past, don’t start with the pre-conceived notion that everything done in the past was bad. Everyone can become a good coach after the match is over because, with the benefit of hindsight, everyone’s vision is 20/20. Sometimes individuals ascending to leadership get so fixated on lamenting the evils of the past or lapses of their predecessors that they spend less time thinking soberly of the challenges of the present and the future. Interestingly, some of these individuals ultimately perform worse than their predecessors because a driver who spends all his time looking in the rear view mirror will ultimately veer off the road and end up in the ditch. Tearing down the good plans, projects, and visions of the past just because they were crafted or initiated in the past is not an element of leading with wisdom.

Leading wisely will entail doing an unbiased and thorough review of the past in order to build on what worked well in the past and avoid the errors and lapses that occurred. Looking to the past may be helpful in identifying where the pits were dug and where the landmines were littered. Leaders are not angels or deputy gods, so they too can make mistakes. If leaders must make mistakes, let their mistakes be new mistakes, not the same old mistakes of the past from which they should have learned lessons.

2. Don’t proceed as if the world will come to an end on the day you leave office. Just as there is a past that you inherited, there is a future that you will bequeath. A leader is only the intersection between the past and the future. To lead wisely, you will also have to look to the future in order to avoid taking decisions that are only beneficial today but shortchanges future generations. Wisdom in leadership is having the ability to see beyond the tip of one’s nose and seeing afar even when the weather is misty. Wisdom is leaving a solid legacy behind, fundamentally transforming society or effecting paradigm shifts that redound to the benefit of the generation of today and tomorrow. Leading wisely is simply leading with an eye on the future – being concerned about what posterity will say about you or what epitaphs will be written on your tomb when you are dead and gone.

3. Have an eye for the strategic. A wise leader will have to set out knowing full well that no matter how hard he or she tries, it is going to be extremely difficult to achieve all the lofty goals and plans that he/she anticipated upon assuming office. Often times exogenous factors will intervene to make the achievement of certain goals practically impossible. Additionally, a leader needs to understand that he/she cannot be all things to all men and that to achieve some real big, transformative targets will incur opposition or enmity from even people hitherto considered true friends. But in the midst of all the changing circumstances and the headaches and heartaches of leadership, the wise leader will keep his/her eye on the strategic, never dropping the ball on core, strategic values and goals; but always recognizing that there is a myriad of tactical paths that may lead to the same outcome. The key is taking the best possible path to achieve the core objective in light of current realities.

So a leader will have to pick his battles, realizing that you can lose some battles and still win the war. In fact, there are some battles that are not worth winning as the victories they bring are sometimes more costly than defeats. Having an eye on the strategic is therefore determining which battles you may afford to lose and which battles you must win in order to win the war.

4. Have the right motivation. A leader embarking on whatever plan or objective should be inspired by the right reasons, the right intentions; not selfish, parochial or pecuniary motivations. However, it should be realized that good intentions alone do not translate to good outcomes/results. The wife who cooked a tasteless dish for the husband had good intentions; but she chose the wrong or inadequate means to translate her good intentions into good outcomes. A leader having the right motivation can easily accept his/her errors or missteps and can make amends as opposed to someone actuated by ignoble intentions.

5. Manage yourself. Being in a leadership position gives you the opportunity to manage men and to manage money. But although managing men and managing money are two very difficult tasks, it will surprise you to know they are not as difficult as managing oneself. Therefore, the first battle a leader needs to wage in order to lead wisely is a battle against himself/herself – a battle against unbridled passion and greed. Ironically, the undoing of lots of great men and women in history came from their inability to keep themselves in check, to tame the beast that resides in all of us called human beings. The Greek philosopher Socrates put it aptly when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living” and the all-time musical genius, Michael Jackson, sings that if we want to make the world a better place, we should look at ourselves in the mirror and make the change.

Comrade President-elect, You are being inducted to use power, so do not allow power to use you. While acquisition of power may be difficult, what is actually more difficult is maintaining and sustaining power and honorably leaving the scene while the applause is the loudest.


Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan