What is effective leadership?


The book of Numbers was written by Moses between 1450 and 1410 BC. It tells the story of how Israel prepared to enter the promised land; how they sinned and were punished; and how they tried again to do good after sinning. It is therefore a story of triumph and failure, and central to all this is the significance of leadership.

In Numbers 27:15-17 Moses prayed to God to appoint a leader over the Israelites. He asked God to appoint a leader capable of directing both external and internal affairs; one who could lead them into battle; one who would care for their needs.

The Lord responded by appointing Joshua. Moses was God’s chosen leader who looked beyond self and asked God for a worthy successor. 

His actions are in contrast to the South Indian proverb that, “Nothing grows under a banyan tree.” The banyan tree spreads its branches wide, drops air roots, develops secondary trunks and a full-grown one may cover more than an acre of land! Birds, animals and humans find shelter under its shade. But nothing grows under its dense foliage, and when it dies the ground beneath lies barren and scorched.

The banana tree is the opposite. Six months after it sprouts, small shoots appear around it. At 12 months a second circle of shoots appear beside the first ones. At 18 months the main trunk bears bananas which nourish birds, animals, and humans. Its offspring then bear fruit too and the cycle continues unbroken.

Some leaders are like the banyan tree. They have great influence and power. They are probably effective. However, they do not prepare for the transition to allow for the emergence of new leaders.

In 1996, as a first-year law student at Makerere University I became a pioneer member of a student organization called the Southern African Student Volunteer Organization (SASVO).

Under the patronage of the South African High Commissioner, we raised funds and every Christmas break we would pitch camp for about two weeks at a remote rural location and put up a few classroom blocks for a primary school.

Our projects were quite successful and we were able to construct school blocks in Iganga, Masindi, Mbarara, Tororo and Atiak (Gulu). The projects in Tororo and Atiak were undertaken in 1998 and 1999 when I had taken over the leadership of SASVO. But as I approached my departure from the university, it became obvious that I had not groomed a strong successor. Indeed SASVO crumbled soon after I handed over leadership. Lesson learnt: unlike the banana tree, I had not nurtured, mentored and guided.

As leaders, we do not have to stress out over getting worthy successors. The most important thing we can do is pray, like Moses did, and God will do the rest. 

Omar Bradley once said: “The greatness of a leader is measured by the achievements of the led. This is the ultimate test of his effectiveness.” The key take-home lessons from this are:

l One of the marks of good leadership is the willingness and ability to train another person for the position of leadership.

l The person after whom we pattern our good leadership will have had a positive effect on us.

Is Christ reflected in our leadership? Are we people-oriented? How do we relate with the people around us? Are we like the banyan tree or the banana tree?

The writer is Dean of the Faculty of Law