May I begin by assuring the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria that I am richly
honoured by your invitation to me to join you this evening, and by your acceptance of
me as speaker at this dinner. I suspect that it is not exactly easy for the highest-
ranking Learned Friends in our nation to subject themselves to even a few minutes
of invited invasion by a ‘friend’ whose learned status is somewhat open to question.
However, I am proud to say that some of your distinguished members regard me as
a friend, which explains my temerity in getting up to address you now. It is also true
that, some 42 years ago, the University of Sierra Leone awarded me an honorary
doctorate degree in civil law – DCL – bur I am careful to emphasize to everyone that
I cannot claim any entitlement to professional legal recognition on account of that
Let me also clarify my objective in speaking here this evening. This is not a lecture,
or even an address. Rather, I trust that you will allow me to share some thoughts on
my view, which is that professionals are probably best placed to show what true
leadership should look like, especially in this place, and in these times, when we are
inclined to attribute many negative trends in our land to what we describe as ‘poor
leadership.’ My view on this subject is one that I have held for quite a while. 23
years ago, in September 1994, I was invited to speak at a luncheon hosted by the
Ikeja Jaycees, as they were known at the time. Speaking on the theme – A NEW
LEADERSHIP IN NIGERIA, I said –
“I am strongly convinced that the future of successful leadership in Nigeria will
not begin among the politicians or the holders of public office, whether they be
in uniform or in plain clothes. My belief is that, for the new leadership that we
seek, we must turn to the people who belong to the professions – the people
who undergo specific training to acquire certain knowledge and skills, the
people who are instructed and trained in the meaning and application of ethics
and standards, the people who have voluntarily prepared themselves to
render service, and who are committed to life-long acceptance of the fact that
they must stand ready to be judged by their performance. Clearly, we have no
hope of developing successful leaders in government or politics until we clean
up our leadership act at the levels where our professionals operate”.
As we all know, there are many definitions of leadership, and they range from the
one that claims that a leader is able to take people to a place where they would not
wish to go, all the way to the other extreme where the leader is seen as the weakest
member of the team, since he cannot claim success until the slowest member of his
team has reached the destination of their joint endeavour. I prefer to escape
possible confusion by adopting the definition that sees leadership as –
An influence relationship between leaders and followers through which they
effect changes that must be made for the realization of their mutual purposes.
That definition gives rise to a number of thoughts –
First, that a leader must have followers. Someone has said that anyone who claims
to be leading, but has no one willingly following him, is merely taking a walk!
Second, that both leader and follower should be pursuing the same goals; they have
a shared purpose.
Third, that they must both be ready to take decisions and actions – including making
changes as necessary – in pursuit of their mutual objectives.
And fourth, that both leader and follower can influence one another as they work
together in pursuit of their shared goals.
Leadership in Practice
Yet, in our actual practice of leadership, we often come face to face with some
challenges. First, we feel a need to distinguish the leader from his followers, and so
we give him a specific position with an appropriate title, a position reflecting his
higher status, which we may then further recognize by awarding perquisites (a.k.a.
privileges or freebies) that sweeten the life of the leader. We may be so taken up
with these trappings of position that we forget that there is actually a good reason for
appointing or electing people as leaders, and that leadership is not title, status or
Leadership is needed at every level of life where there is a responsibility to be
carried out. So, first and foremost, the central concern of the leadership role is
RESPONSIBILITY, which usually means that the leader must maintain a focus on
the RESULTS that must be achieved, remembering that such results must keep faith
with the expectations of people in respect of quality, timeliness and cost-
effectiveness of the outcome of work.
To help the leader in the PERFORMANCE of his task, we usually provide resources,
and we give him the authority to deploy such resources where they will be most
effective. Some leaders regard this authority as the power of position, and are often
unable to see the difference between the application of authority for effective
performance and the display of power just to impress onlookers.
Perhaps the greatest danger that leaders often face is the temptation to ignore or
oppose the need for ACCOUNTABILITY. To normal human beings, it seems
reasonable that anyone who is given certain resources with the authority to deploy
them for an agreed purpose, should be willing to give account of performance
whenever such accounting will promote mutual confidence between the leader and
other stakeholders of the enterprise. In practice however, it is not unknown for some
so-called leaders to crave the establishment of a system where they can enjoy
immunity from accountability.
Expectation v. Performance
Here, we may pause to highlight the main concern of this paper, which is that we
often confuse issues by indulging in the practice of rewarding leadership
performance before it actually happens! We give title, status and other privileges to
the leader on the day that he takes up the role because we expect performance of
the right quality from him. Three questions immediately arise:
• first, have we done everything necessary to ensure that the leader has the
capacity to live up to our expectation?
• second, have we made provision for the mandatory learning that the leader
should undergo in his new responsibility to enable him to perform to
• And third, do we have credible, fail-safe arrangements for separating a non-
performing leader from the role, and from the privileges of office if, indeed, the
gap between expectation and performance cannot be bridged?
Leadership and the Professional
Clearly then, we need to be truly concerned if, in our everyday experience,
leadership performance does not always reflect ‘best practice’. Considering the
importance of good leadership in the attainment of sustainable success in all
situations, I suggest that we consider what I regard as the superior fitness of
professionals for leadership, since I believe – indeed, I am convinced – that
professionals are in the position to bring the culture of best practice that they apply in
their normal professional work to their leadership performance.
To further elaborate my suggestion, I begin by sharing the definition of the
word – profession – which I have borrowed from the American People’s
Encyclopaedia. It says that a profession is – “A vocation based on long specialized
intellectual training that enables a particular service to be rendered. Professions
generally represent a high degree of creative thought and are thus distinguished from
vocations calling for technical skill alone.’’
The encyclopaedia goes on to add that professions and professional practice usually
demonstrate the following features: high prestige; lengthy periods of training;
standards established through formal examinations; and rigid codes of ethics designed
to safeguard the interest of clients.
I justify my own faith in professionals in the light of the following facts:
• First, the professional voluntarily commits himself to the values, standards and
discipline of his profession. He does this because those standards and values
are universally respected, and are based on concepts of equity and fairness –
concepts that require the practitioner to respect the rights and entitlements of
• Second, the professional undergoes formal study, followed by a maturing
process under the supervision of someone with experience and commitment in
the same field.
• Third, the professional must observe the discipline of his profession in order to
be allowed to continue in practice. If he fails, there are sanctions to be applied
by his fellow-professionals.
• Fourth, the professional is actually required to pass on the benefits of his
discipline to his juniors in the profession. Sharing such benefits with the rest of
society should come naturally.
• Next, when we study the code of practice established by the profession, we
observe the importance that is given to objectivity, and to the application of due
care and diligence in the professional’s daily work.
• Professionals are also expected to conduct themselves with courtesy and
consideration towards all with whom they come in contact.
• Finally, accountability is an inescapable imperative in the work life of the
professional. The same goes for integrity. Those who embrace integrity as a
way of life will readily acknowledge and accept that they are accountable for
their behaviour and performance, not only to the people whose lives they touch,
but also to a Divine Authority from whom nothing can be hidden or disguised.
In summary, we may conclude that the charter of the true professional emphasizes
the importance of giving good service; the essence of applying high standards and
ethical principles; and the imperative of safeguarding the interest of the client or
customer. Values, standards, stakeholder focus.
Now I am going to ask that you stretch your imagination for one brief moment: What
would happen to leadership performance in this nation if all who are elected or
appointed to leadership responsibility were to use this charter as the template for their
own performance? If they had genuine commitment to the application of the right
values, standards and discipline, and were determined consistently to deliver service
that would truly safeguard the best interests of their stakeholders? Without a doubt,
we would joyfully witness a clearly discernible improvement in leadership
performance, and the yawning gap between expectation and performance would be
firmly and permanently bridged.
The Way Forward
So, the main thought that I have tried to share tonight, is that we can best bridge the
gap between expectation and performance among our leaders by applying some of
the cardinal principles that govern professionalism and professional practice. Even
so, there are some basic considerations that deserve our continued attention, even
as practitioners of respectable professions that need effective leadership for
• Let us remember that the leader succeeds best by working sincerely for the
good of the corporate body, not for selfish or narrow interests. It should be
obvious that a society or an organization that is in wholesome condition is
best able to provide for the genuine welfare of its individual members. Where
the community itself is in poor shape, the prospects for the individual are
• Good values form the best basis for taking positive leadership decisions.
Good values not only cater to the best interests of people; they also ensure
that we will all pursue an agenda of peaceful coexistence. If we engage in
unlawful acts that endanger other people’s life and limb, we lose the peace
and jeopardize the future of our community.
• The leader should be a person of high standards, always able to show a good
example in his own work and relationships. This enables followers to fix their
focus on ennobling standards as well, and the general tone of the entire
community is uplifted.
• Self-discipline is an essential factor of the leader’s success, and facilitates his
ability to learn and to develop his leadership capacity. It is also the best way
of ensuring that he will always have the moral right to demand consistent best
practice from his people.
Of course, there will be challenges, and the leader should expect challenges in the
• People: Finding the right mix to work with, and gaining and retaining their
• Interpersonal skills: Communicating effectively, and applying the right
leadership style to each situation.
• Power & authority: Knowing the right balance, and using both to achieve the
desired objectives of the endeavour.
• Courage & strength: The will to stand firm in the face of opposition, and the
readiness to admit when one is in error.
• Learning: The ability and readiness to learn and to pursue self-development.
• Values, ethics, standards: Standing for, and operating with the right values
at all times.
• Empowerment: Progressively encouraging followers to enter into leadership
roles, and thus preparing the leaders of the future.
Accountability: Readiness to be judged by the quality of one’s own
• Example: Showing the way to followers by personal example.
I bring an end to this thought-sharing privilege by recalling a fact of which we are all
aware. The rhetoric of leadership in our land is eminently respectable, and it is
difficult to fault the things that we are usually told about the need for probity,
transparency, good values, and many other positive factors that should support our
nation building endeavour. The final thought that I would offer to leaders of the
present and the future, is best illustrated in a thought expressed by Francis Bacon,
who said: “He that gives good advice builds with one hand; he that gives good
counsel and example builds with both; he that gives good counsel but bad example
builds with one hand and tears down with the other.
Once again, I wish to express my true appreciation for the privilege that I have been
given to share my thoughts this evening, and pray that the Lord will continue to bless
our joint efforts to bring leadership performance in line with the best professional
principles that are the true hallmarks of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
Dr Christopher Kolade, former Nigerian High Commission to the United Kingdom delivered this talk at the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria’s dinner in Lagos on November 11, 2017.