By John Akinola
For President George M. Weah to succeed as President, he must be willing to want to succeed, but from the look of things, the only person in Liberia who seems to want President Weah not to succeed is President Weah himself. This notion stems from the fact that Liberia is chaotic every day because of the President’s desire to put “friendship” and partisanship above the national interest.
Weah, the former Liberian international soccer star, won the hearts of Liberians and most people around the world because of his soccer prowess. As a professional soccer star, Liberians gushed about their hero and always wanted him to succeed in the field of play, and of course, he did. He went on to be the World Best, Europe Best, and Africa’s Best among many other titles.
Weah also did a vast amount of charitable work for Liberians and the world through the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) where he served as a “Goodwill Ambassador” for s short period. These efforts endeared him to more of his countrymen and women.
Put together, some Liberians who were fatigued with the failure of the so-called educated and progressive class in Liberia’s leadership soon felt recruiting Weah for president would have been a sure recipe for a better Liberia. Of course, Weah himself believed this. Politics aside, Weah also wants a better Liberia. The bottom line: with the support of many Liberians, Weah turned to politics after years of a successful soccer career.
The climax of Liberians’ support for Weah can be determined by his overwhelming political victory for Senator three to four years before his ascendancy to the presidency. Winning a race against ‘millionaire’ Robert Allen Sirleaf, son of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberia’s then de facto prime minister, was not Weah’s efforts alone; it was the commitment of Liberians who craved for change. Even though his legislative successes and failures remain an issue for debate, Weah still pulled the plug, winning the Liberian presidency in 2017 because Liberians always wanted him to succeed.
About two years in office now, most people have realized that many of the people President Weah appointed in government as well as some of those around him are not committed to the President’s success nor the progress of Liberia. There is chaos at the Central Bank of Liberia, underperformance at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministries of Agriculture and Education are dormant, and no one is sure whether the Ministries of Health, Gender, Commerce, and Transport even exist.
Apart from the Ministry of National Defense for its discipline and excellence and the Ministry of Justice, which has lately begun highlighting the probable prosecution of past alleged corruption and public theft activities by some ex-officials and others associated with the past Liberian government, there are two other agencies that are showing signs of relative performance. The Ministry of Public Works and somehow the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.
One’s measure in pointing out that the Ministry of Public Works is relatively performing some good works stemmed from the fact that roads are being built or paved. As for Finance and Development Planning, one would agree that the new salary harmonization scheme designed, if implemented, would highlight perhaps the first significant achievements of the Weah presidency and government. This potential relative gain does not excuse the fact the so-called Economic Management Team spearheaded by the Ministry has not been grossly unable to properly account for some allocated resources, including the US 25 Million Dollars Mop-Up Exercise Funds.
Compared to Liberians’ expectations about the change the country needs, the government is slow and not meeting appropriate governance standards all because of “friendship,” and the President’s desire to be liked by his friends also trumps his commitment to providing real national leadership.
According to John Eades, Author, podcaster, and CEO of LearnLoft, “It is human nature to want to be liked by people closer to you.” While there is nothing wrong with this noble desire, it can hurt one’s ability to lead others effectively.
Although building and maintaining quality relationships is a key to leadership, having the goal of being everyone’s friend can hurt one’s ability, focus, and determination to lead wisely. Moreover, in this case, it is impeding Liberia now and will in the future. Therefore, President Weah should switch off the “friendship” label if he wants to lead and be successful as President of Liberia. Not turning off the “friendship” label and overzealous partisanship would make it extremely difficult to challenge, coach, and hold his officials accountable.
There is an apparent reason for this phenomenon. Leaders are not intended, or meant to be friends in matters of governance; they are designed to elevate their teams or others by challenging them to reach the height of their potential.
Equally, there is nothing wrong with being friends with one’s team or officials to some extent, but as a leader of a nation, it cannot be one’s primary goal. If a leader is falling into the “friend zone” with his or her cabinet and other officials, here is what he or she should do:
- Develop a leadership style and hold oneself accountable first and foremost. If not, the smart ones on the team will exploit his or her weakness and hold them ransom.
- Learn from experience, past experiences of people who held similar roles before them.
- Do not be afraid to fail, but when one does, seek help.
- Have a compelling vision, and that does not have to be something that should only be one’s idea; seek out other people’s views.
- Polish one’s people skills.
- Motivate oneself to be the best, not through one’s reality, but the observation of honest, truthful, and sincere people.
- Keep people informed at all times every step along the way so that no doubt is there in any form and manner.
- Inspire others and do so with openness, transparency, and humility.
Leaders who fail to provide excellent and proper command, inspiration, and strategic vision for their people usually leave a battered and troubled nation behind. Such leaders delude themselves and mislead others within a losing legacy. Also, the truth is, Liberia has experienced that with some of its past governments and leaders whose legacies remained unfiltered, and questionable.
That said, Liberians generally seem to like George M. Weah, and he is the President of Liberia. However, it is crucial for a leader, like President Weah, to first focus on himself by being able to trust and make his own decisions based on honest, sincere and truthful advisory rather than on what he wants to hear from his inner circle gatekeepers and friends. Doing so gives him confidence that shows through others, giving them a reason to believe his leadership. As a leader, being able to focus on oneself, and within oneself, provides one with real satisfaction and peace in every other area of life as well.
As a leader, it is also paramount to build relationships with all groups irrespective of political and social affiliation, and economic interests. Ignoring the need to build relationships with all, including those who critique one’s administration, has proven unproductive for most leaders, and President Weah should not make this fundamental mistake so early. History has shown the high price some leaders have paid for ignoring the vital process of building healthy national relationships with all sides.
It is not late for this to happen. To create these kinds of relationships, President Weah needs to pay attention not only to his immediate team members, friends, and partisans; he needs to keep learning and never assume anything. He needs to be above the scrimmage and demonstrate a persona as the elder of the nation. Weah has to understand that President George M. Weah is not a president of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) or his friends, but the President of Liberia. Therefore, he must rise above all other things that are beneath the dignity of the Presidency. President Weah also has to understand that Liberians, all Liberians, stand with him once his government does the right things. He, not his friends or partisans, is in charge!
About the Author:
John Akinola is a Nigerian and West African with interest in African leadership, governance and sustainable development.