Leaders can stay in power by focusing on serving the people they lead rather than thinking of themselves as heroes, William George, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, has said. Power is a key concept in leadership and is generally defined as the propensity to influence others’ beliefs, attitudes and courses of action.  With power comes the responsibility and accountability to others for a leader’s decisions and actions.  While President Barrow can expand on his acquired position and power by putting the Gambians’ success before his own, he’s expected to constantly apply his leadership strengths and ideas toward the country’s better future. Let’s bear in mind that power comes in many forms and the essence of power seeks for the influence of a leader to motivate followers to respond or act in way that is acceptable.

However, power can bring out the best or worst in a leader. If President Barrow begins making foolish or selfish decisions that could hurt Gambia’s future, his grip on power can dissipate quickly.  If he endeavors to exercise power judiciously, he will become the role model that influences meaningful development of the commonweal.  Through strong communication, constant learning and the courage to pursue development opportunities, President Barrow can easily become the best leader Gambia has ever had. It is obvious to all that the bar is set low enough by his predecessor for him to achieve that accolade.

Yaya Jammeh was a perfect example of why an overinflated sense of power can lead to a false sense of control. A perception that made him become delusional at levels unseen or unheard of.  This grand illusion or an overinflated sense of power can hurt leaders who may be inclined to take dangerous risks under the illusion, or delusion, that nothing can go wrong.

On the other hand, being frozen in a desire to please and be liked, or avoiding catastrophic errors in decision making could make President Barrow feel effectively powerless.  Eventually, looking and acting as though he’s powerless is dangerous for his and Gambia’s future.  If he does not act like he’s in charge, in effect he won’t be; and here are some of the counter intuitions he needs to avoid by all means, to stop the scenarios that seem to be playing out in his government as we speak:

Decision paralysis:

I am convinced that most well-meaning Gambians and friends, would like to see President Barrow nurture a cabinet that is empowered, and want to see him act more like a servant that facilitates decision-making, not control it.  Notably, paralysis is a common and destructive form of decision abdication and one of the most important aspects of strong leadership is making and sticking with a decision.  You can be wrong, but if you make a decision and then recant, you’re in trouble.  If President Barrow is seen to be waffling around major decisions to be made because he is unable to make the call and see it through, his team will quickly learn this lack of clarity and work it to their advantage at the detriment of Gambia’s much needed development.  I am not insinuating that his team will act unethically however, there must not be an opportunity for anyone to act unethically.

Too many opinions:

Ultimately President Barrow is the one who has to make decisions and live with the responsibilities or consequences.  He must not be seen to be opening that job to others while getting too many heads involved.  This ties back to my previous point on decision paralysis.  Whilst engaging those whose responsibility covers a decision’s consequences is important, over-indulging too many players at the expense of effective action isn’t consensus-building, that’s ultimate abdication. 

Accommodating everyone:

While he needs to have advisers around to help in his decision making process, President Barrow must not be seen to be saying ‘yes’ to everyone and not even those close to him as advisers.  If he’s seen to be trying to accommodate everyone’s feeling of ownership and control, he’ll eventually lose his own control.  The need to say ‘yes’ must not overpower the courage to say ‘no’ unless he wants to preside over a fragmented government that specializes in failure of strategies.  A fragmented government is the last thing Gambia needs in these fragile times of nation rebuilding. 

Tolerating poor performance:

Generally, people’s commitment to drive a strategy to fruition becomes diluted once they conclude that the plan or strategy is not being taken seriously, simply because the priorities change by the day.  If President Barrow is seen to be waffling on decisions and priorities while doling out too much control over the direction of projects, he’ll find himself with no power to mandate what the country’s actual development exigencies are. 

Finally, I would like to reflect a little on the how President Barrow’s cabinet could work best together.  It is well known that all strong leadership teams or any strong team for that matter, must have the ability to collaborate and share power.  When conflicts arise, they are expected collaborate, have meaningful dialogue and agree to disagree.  A strong cabinet of leaders is expected to have the emotional intelligence, audacity and maturity to know that maintaining the balance of the power and portraying exemplary ethical behavior are the most efficient ways to effectively manage the affairs of a nation.  Where disagreements arise and reach an impasse, they are expected to maturely handle it amongst themselves by agreeing to allow time for more information to be gathered or to defer the decision to some form of arbitration or a higher decision making authority.  This is how power and teamwork are expected to be utilized.  In the same vein, it is incumbent upon ourselves as citizens and friends that we call on our leaders to exercise the use of power responsibly.

With the enormous political capital accorded to him by virtue of Coalition 2016, President Barrow must not be seen to be waffling around with the powers and trust bestowed on him by the people of the beautiful nation of Gambia.

By: BambaLaye Jallow

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