INNOVATIVE leadership and creativity holds the key to counter the downturn in the Namibian economy that caused hardship for many families because of job losses.
The Minister of Mines and Energy, Tom Alweendo addressed the future leaders of the country at the University of Namibia’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences Research Annual Conference in Keetmanshoop and said people need to focus on the solution rather than the problem and need to do so in a collaborative manner.
He believes that Namibians has the ability to use the tough economic times to turn the tide by venturing into unexplored avenues and turn institutions such as universities into places of innovation and creativity.
The minister said the University of Namibia is an excellent example of such an institution than can take the lead to find solutions for the future.
The minister spoke about leadership and shared some of his wisdom in this regard with people attending the conference
Minister Alweendo’s address reads as follows:
I would like to thank Dr. Jacob Nyambe for his invitation for me to speak at this important conference that is meant to seek for practical solutions as to how to revive our economy. Let me also commend the Management of the University of Namibia for having decided to be an active participant in finding solutions for our economic problems.
This is encouraging knowing that most of us would rather offer criticism, forgetting that criticizing is not the same as offering a solution to the problem.
It is a fact that over the last three years our economy has not been doing well.
Growth has been rather slow; a number of people have lost their jobs thereby creating hardships for many families; the Government was compelled to cut down on its expenditure such that at times too much pressure might have been exerted on public service delivery; the private sector, fearing what might happen in the immediate future, has decrease its investment.
All these events have started to create an environment where some of us are becoming less hopeful; where we start doubting our ability to manage the economic difficulties we are experiencing.
However, in order for us to address the current challenges we need to focus on the solutions rather than concentrating on the problems.
We need to believe that we have what it takes to find solutions to our challenges. Despite the current tough economic conditions, I firmly believe that we have what it takes to turn the tide. That is if we agree to make ourselves reasonably uncomfortable by venturing in unexplored avenues and doing things no one has done before.
That is if we decide to leave behind what doesn’t serve us anymore. That is if we realize that what gave us the socio-economic successes we experienced in the past will not necessarily give us what is now needed to succeed.
As we all know, today we live in a world that is more volatile and unpredictable. The world today is more complex than ever before. It is a world characterized by ever-changing technologies that at times is so disruptive. The only thing that will ensure that we remain an important part of the global community is when we embrace innovation and creativity, and it is here where our institutions of higher learning come in.
We need to turn our universities into places of innovation and creativity; into spaces where ideas are generated. We need to convert our universities into engine rooms where courageous men and women dare to dream.
And I am saying courageous because it takes courage to come up with something new; it takes courage to disrupt what has become the norm.
But we have to do it because it is the only way we can continue to be relevant otherwise we will perish as a Nation.
In his invitation letter to me, Dr. Nyambe indicated that one of the subthemes of this conference is governance and ethics. I have therefore decided to make some remarks with regards to a situation where there is lack of governance and ethics and how such a situation impacts on our socio-economic development agenda.
I will also touch on the issue of leadership and how it impacts society. By way of simplification and to use terminology that is more common, I will refer to the lack of governance and ethics as corruption.
It is the case that corruption or even the perception of corruption, can have a negative effect on our national development. While Namibia ranks favourably on regional and international indices, such as the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance and the Afro-Barometer Survey, challenges of corruption still remain.
Not only does corruption affects economic development in terms of economic efficiency and growth. It also affects equitable distribution of resources and thereby increasing the income inequality in a society. There are various ways in which corruption affects economic development.
For example, corruption has the potential to undermine our ability and capacity to collect tax revenue.
When taxpayers evade and avoid their responsibilities to pay taxes, this is a form of corruption and it has an adverse effect on the provision of public service.
Corruption also has an eroding long-term effect on economic growth at the corporate enterprise level. We all know that all successful and dynamic economies have one feature in common – strong and competitive enterprises. It is enterprises – whether publicly or privately owned – that create wealth for society.
Enterprises are therefore at the centre of economic growth.
In highly corrupt economies, enterprises find it difficult to grow and prosper; they are less competitive and highly inefficient. More often than not, such enterprises tend to spend an inordinate managerial time on negotiating unhelpful regulations and red tape with bureaucrats, instead of growing the enterprise.
Corruption is not only bad for economic growth and enterprises. It is also bad for ordinary citizens, especially the poor and the most vulnerable. For example, when the investment cost in large public infrastructure is highly inflated because of corruption, it reduces the Government’s capacity to fund social welfare.
When companies and individuals evade their responsibility to pay the required taxes, it diminishes the Government’s ability to fund programs aimed at poverty alleviation – thereby perpetuating the existing income inequality.
The question that arises is what causes corruption.
There is empirical evidence that suggests that failure of governance necessarily leads to corruption. It is also my contention that corruption is usually as a result of lack of ethical leadership – a leadership that is more altruistic in its outlook as opposed to a self seeking one. Ethical leaders are those who will always aspire to leave things in a better shape than they found them.
It is necessary to have anti-corruption laws but that will not prevent corruption – all what it does is to hopefully catch those who are corrupt. However, with ethical leadership – whether in Government, private sector or civil societies – you are assured of the absence of corruption.
What is clear though is that corruption is possible in any system, regardless of the philosophy or ideology of the founding fathers of a particular government or corporate enterprise. No one and no country is therefore immune from corruption.
And once corruption has set in, it is rather difficult to wipe it out quickly. It is therefore important that we make ethical and principled leadership a core issue in our choice of our leaders – be in the private sector or the public sector.
Here I am reminded of the American science fiction writer, Octavia Butler, who had this to say about the importance of choosing leaders. “Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunist who controls the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”
What about leadership and how it impacts socioeconomic development. If there is any subject matter that over which a lot has been said or written, it is leadership. And I believe that there is a good reason why it is the case. It is said that it all starts with leadership and ends with leadership and without effective leadership we will not be able to deal with most of the life challenges without effective leadership.
We also need to understand that leadership is not necessarily about the position I occupy and it is not always about the rank assigned to me in an organization. Real leadership is about my ability to create a positive influence on other people and for that you do not always need to have a position or title.
It is also the case that leadership is not as easy as some of us may want to think. When you are the leader, your main task is to take people to a destination where they sometimes do not necessarily want to go.
This cannot be easy and probably not for everyone. To do so and to make an impact, you need to have a clear vision and the ability to communicate the vision to your followers; those you are leading.
On the leadership journey you will be required to make decisive decisions that will not always please your followers. You will also learn quickly that your leadership role will be made easier when you are able to earn your followers’ respect, commitment and loyalty.
As a leader, watch out as to who you decide to surround yourself with. For most of us, it feels rather natural to surround ourselves with those who look like ourselves; with those who think like we do; and with those who are our personal favourites.
The unfortunate thing for such leaders is that our personal favourites more often than not do tell us what we want to hear and not necessarily what we need to hear as leaders.
For those aspiring leadership roles one other thing you need to know is that you will not be a successful leader of others if you are not able to lead yourself.
And I believe this is an important point because self leadership is about being aware of who I am; having a clear sense of my strengths and weaknesses; knowing what I am capable of. If leadership is about influencing others positively, self-leadership is all about influencing yourself, myself, positively.
There is just no way can I lead others when I am not able to lead myself; when I am not able to set examples for others.
Another aspect of leadership that I want to talk about is that of leaders who go astray.
We have heard of some famous names of leaders – both in the corporate world and in the world of politics – who fell from grace for one reason or other. Iconic names that were admired and during their heydays every corporate leader or political leader wanted to be like them. They were admired; they were held in awe.
The question to be asked is what happened to such leaders. Is it that they were really not good leaders or is it that something happened to them while they were exercising their leadership roles? When you follow the stories of all these former icons that fell from grace, invariably you will find that the main cause of their troubles is that they lost their moral compass.
And why do leaders lose their moral compass, you may ask? There are a number of reasons why leaders lose their moral compass. The thing is that the more successful you become as a leader, the more temptations will surely come your way. As a leader in business or in politics, there will always be those who would want to tempt you to do what is not right; to cut corners and to do what is expedient.
There will always be those who will offer you inducements in exchange for what seems, at the time, to be a career-enhancing opportunity. It is therefore important – as a leader – to always be on the outlook for what is likely to be career-ending rather than career-enhancing.
Another important aspect of leadership is that of examining my motive of wanting to be a leader. There are wrong reasons why someone may want to become a leader and there are also the right reasons to become a leader. It is therefore very important to ask myself the question – why do I want to become a leader?
Do I want to be the CEO of a company or a political leader because of the prestige that accompanies the leadership position? We all know that in the eyes of many people being a leader is rather prestigious; leadership inspires respect and admiration.
When you are the CEO or the Minister, most people tend to be polite to you. They even forget that you have a name and only call you sir or honorable. They will even stand up for you when you enter the room; they will insist to carry your bag even when it is empty. And it can feel
If these are the most important reasons why I want to become a leader and why you want to be a leader then you are at risk of losing your moral compass and more often than not unfortunately the end result is likely to be personal devastation. But it can be avoided if you stay grounded, if you continuously strive to be an ethical leader – not an easy thing but certainly doable.
There are also cases where successful leaders fell from grace not necessarily because they did something wrong. These are leaders who year-in and year-out deliver great results. Corporate CEO’s who have made their shareholders wealthy. Political leaders who won elections with huge margins and in the process made their political parties symbols of success.
In the process such leaders become famous; they receive accolades and they become sought-after keynote speakers at important events.
Unfortunately for some such leaders, the success becomes an end in itself. They start to desire more and more success, in the process becoming addicted to the prestige and the fame they have obtained.
When that happens, such leaders start to believe that they are the alpha and omega – and nothing can happen without them. It is when they start to lose their moral compass.
The challenge to all leaders will be to master the necessary self-discipline to always do what is right and to do so even when it is not a popular thing to do; and also to do so irrespective of the consequence. It is not easy and it requires great courage, but it is what it takes if you as a leader wants to leave a lasting positive legacy.
We also need to realize that the world has changed where things no longer work as before. We now live in times where trust between the leaders and the followers is no longer as strong as it used to be; times where those we lead are no longer prepared to follow the leaders blindly.
They demand integrity from their leaders; they want their leaders to be held to the highest standard of integrity where corruption is regarded as an abomination by all citizens. We live in the world where information, and therefore knowledge, is freely available to almost everyone; where those in leadership no longer have the monopoly over information.
It therefore looks like leaders in the 21st century might have to lead differently than before. Leaders in the 21st century will be required to leader in a more collaborative fashion. But above all, if I want to be a successful leader, if you want to be a leader of note, you have no choice but to be a leader with a steady moral compass.
I want to end my remarks with an Albert Einstein quote that says that “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”.
Let us all therefore make it our responsibility to promote good governance, and in the process combating the evil of corruption, and thereby accelerating our socio-economic development. I have no doubt that the University of Namibia will play a positive role in ensuring that we will continue to have leaders that will make Namibia a better place to live for all its citizens.