Just the other day, I had a chat with an old friend over coffee. He had made loads of money in the last five years. How he made the money is not part of this story.
Our conversation went like this:
“I want to get into politics now,” he told me.
“Why would you want to get into politics?”, I replied, as I knew him to be a very reserved person and not someone looking for the limelight.
“Why not?” he retorted, “I have made my money and have enough for campaigns. Now I want to be powerful. I want to expand my influence. And I want to help my friends like you!”.
I could not help wondering about his reasons because, last I checked, a politician was supposed to be a leader not a power-hungry opportunist. Or am I wrong? What happened to the qualities of leadership that I learned in school? Do we get into politics just for power’s sake? Do we get into politics to show off our money or to actually serve the public by representing their interests?
I am not only writing this for my friend but also for the hundreds if not thousands of people throughout Kenya in politics or eyeing a career in politics. I think it is time for Kenyans to take a step back and rethink what it means to be a leader and how leaders conduct themselves.
I have looked at different resources about careers in leadership, including the Bible, and this is part of what sums up a leader:
1. A political leader is honest. Many people worry that honesty reveals who they really are and discloses their mistakes, which gives others the opportunity to criticize or reject openly. However, did you know that honesty develops character and builds credibility and trust? Did you know that credibility and trust are the foundation to evoke confidence and respect from those around you, teammates and constituents?
2. A political leader is compassionate. This humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something to alleviate that suffering has oftenly been thrown out of the window. While many see compassion as a weakness, true compassion is a characteristic that converts knowledge to wisdom. Good political leaders use compassion to see the needs of those they lead. They use compassion to determine the course of action that would be of greatest benefit to all those involved. Rate yourself out of 10!
3. A political leader overflows with integrity. While integrity is a synonym for honesty and uprightness, I have added it here because I view it as a vital characteristic for those in political leadership. It is defined as ‘the adherence to moral and ethical principles; the soundness of moral character.’ Political leaders who possess integrity can be trusted because they never veer from inner values, even when it might benefit them to do so. As the British author C.S. Lewis once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”
4. A political leader is decisive even at the oddest of all odds! Are you confident about your decisions? A good political leader is both confident in themselves as well in their ability to lead because they know that there will always be forthright. Leaders who possess this quality inspire others, drawing on a level of trust which sparks the motivation to get others on board and get the job done.
5. Flexibility for a political leader is about understanding the give-and-take aspects of politics, and the ability to find the common ground. Good politicians listen carefully to all sides, to not only hear their arguments but to especially learn what it will take on behalf of all parties involved to reach a consensus. This characteristic allows political leaders to recognize setbacks and criticism, to learn from them and move forward.
6. Political leaders are servant leaders. A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first. As Robert Greenleaf wrote in his seminal essay “The Servant as Leader” published in 1970, “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The leader-first assumes accumulation of power and exercise of power, serves itself and the served comes last in priority.”
According to the Holland Occupational Themes, commonly known as the Holland Codes, one has a high chance of excelling in this career if you are also open, dynamic, assertive, love taking risks and making initiatives, and are good at motivating and persuading others. Great political leaders have all of these qualities - and more. Each aspires to respect different views, analyze problems, and identify viable solutions - not based on loyalty to political party or tribe, but rather based on what is good and right and in the best interest of the constituency and the nation as a whole.
Before getting into this career, please ask yourself; “am I getting into a political career for the right reasons?’.
Margaret Waithaka in the Board Chair of the Career Guidance Institute, the association of career guidance practitioners in Kenya. email@example.com