This is Leadership with Richard Kwarteng Ahenkorah: Remove shoulder pads, burn knee pads


“Don’t fight to win. Not all fighters are winners. Not all winners are fighters.”

In 2017, I facilitated a leadership workshop and networking seminar at Cape Coast in the Central Region of Ghana. Two interesting issues came up. Number one: Why and how do most leaders become ‘dictators’? Number two: why do most leaders cringe when situations require bold decisions? I must confess I really had a good time answering both questions because I achieved my three major objectives during the session. We learned. We unlearned. We re-learned.

In my response, I shared with the participants that: “If you put on a blindfold and threw a dart at a map of the world, there is a 70 percent chance that whatever country the dart lands on is run by some form of dictatorship” – RT Hogan, Hogan Assessment Systems (Hughes et al 2015 p.615). True democracy is a fighting word (Crick 2002), and leaders are not ready for the ‘fight’.

As a matter of fact, democracy reduces a leader’s utmost ‘power’ though it doesn’t take away a leader’s authority and responsibility. Most leaders find it difficult to share power. In the leader-member exchange theory (Armstrong 2004), leaders are expected to learn how to share power in the area of decision-making in particular and how teams are managed in general. It’s a skill to allow teams to make input into leadership decisions. In organisations, good leaders can solicit for teams’ input through team meetings, team briefs, staff durbars, management roadshows and even random team hangouts and staff mixers.

Leaders who come down to the level of their teams see things differently, and they see no point to wield power unnecessarily. The time has come in leadership where the leader must learn to be modest and remove all shoulder pads so to relate well with teams.

This is why understanding referent power is a crucial skill in leading teams, in 21st century leadership. Good leaders don’t just listen. They listen. They listen well, and they listen to the end. During the same session, there were other participants waiting gently, patiently and earnestly for a good answer on the second question. I told them brusquely!

Most leaders put themselves in many conflict of interest situations and they find it difficult to deal with crunch matters. No man in his right senses would want to deliberately and willingly exchange his eye for a toe. Leaders must learn to be well-founded. There’s no point to be an aggressive leader. There’s no delight to be an acquiescent leader. 21st century leadership demands firm and bold leaders. Don’t fight to win. Not all fighters are winners. Not all winners are fighters.

Good leaders don’t apologise for making good decisions. Don’t live in fear. Don’t go begging to be accepted. Burn the knee pads. Don’t be apologetic to bold decisions. Stand upright and get things done rightly. Be positive. Practise positive affirmation and don’t stop improving yourself. Leaders must pursue knowledge in this 21st century knowledge-based world.

If the rebels say power isn’t given but it’s taken, so is knowledge. Don’t leave yourself behind. Attend workshops and seminars, read new books, try new things, share new knowledge, do further studies, listen to audio books, get knowledge and don’t stop learning, re-learn and unlearn. Know more, have foresight and practise knowledge gained.

When you get the knowledge, apply meaning to it. That is wisdom. When leaders learn to appreciate people by learning to understand the world from a good perspective, they’ll surely remove the shoulder pads and they will certainly burn the knee pads. Humility, confidence, wisdom and fearlessness are powerful to leadership development. Remove shoulder pads. Burn knee pads!

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