Reflections on the danger of leading without listening

President Muhammadu Buhari. PHOTO CREDIT: Vanguard

It is now public knowledge that the Hon. Minister of Transportation, RotimiAmaechi, appears unhappy with the leadership style of President Muhammadu Buhari. In two recently leaked audiotapes, Amaechi, who serves as the Director-General of the Buhari/Osinbajo Campaign Organization, made unsavory comments about the leadership style of his principal.

According to him, “The president does not listen to anybody. He doesn’t care. You can write what you want to write. The president doesn’t care. Does he read? He will read, he will laugh. He will say ‘come, come and see, they are abusing me here’.”

Furthermore, he allegedly said that, “In fact, there was one case of somebody in Onitsha, a trader in Onitsha who couldn’t sell his goats during Sallah. And I was with Oga on the plane and the man was busy abusing Buhari. He said, ‘Amaechi, come, what is my business with Onitsha goat seller?’

For some reasons, many Nigerians readily agree with Amaechi.  First, being a minister in the cabinet of President Buhari, Amaechi is in a good position to speak ex cathedra about the leadership style of the president. Second, nobody is willing to question the credence of Amaechi’s claim, because he does not present himself as a fifth columnist in the ruling party. For he has demonstrated and keeps demonstrating uncommon commitment to the success of President Buhari’s political aspirations. His success is linked with Buhari’s success. If Buhari fails, he is doomed, politically. Many of his people are yet to forgive him for supporting Buhari, instead of their kinsman, former President Jonathan. Third, and perhaps the most important, the President does not regularly engage the people directly. He does not speak with them. He speaks to them, and speaks often about them. In fact, he prefers to speak to them about vital issues whenever he is outside the nation.It does not appear morally sound for a leader to speak about his followers without speaking with them. You cannot effectively represent a people you do not pay keen attention to.

In command and control environment and era, one may succeed greatly as a leader without communicating with the led but in today’s world of connect and collaborate; it is impossible to provide effective leadership without effective communication. Effective communication is the life force of effective leadership. No leader can give direction and get feedback without communication. And true communication cannot transpire without active listening.

Leaders who do not listen cannot effectively fight corruption. Communication for connection and collaboration is an anecdote to corruption. The people will own the fight against corruption when leaders begin to engage them before starting projects, programs or policy regimes.

Trust deficit is corrosive. It is one of the key reasons why citizen participation in democratic enterprises is very low in Nigeria. The citizenries do not trust government. As a result, there is a growing gap between the government and the governed. One way to bridge this gap is for government functionaries to pay attention to the genuine yearnings of the people. Listening is vital to trust building. It promotes mutual understanding. It thereby fosters healthy government-citizen engagements for national development.

Leaders become unpopular when they do not listen, not when they do not speak.  Self-preoccupied leaders cannot listen to others. People-preoccupied leaders cannot afford not to listen.  No leader can become people-preoccupied without mastering the art of empathic listening. No leader can live in the hearts of the people without hearing them again and again. Leadership that truly empowerslistens to the people. The opposite is also true. Leadership that does not listen,disempowers the people.

One of the clear dangers of leading without listening is that it makes team building extremely difficult. Is it not said that it takes teamwork to make the vision work? Active listening creates lasting bonds. People cannot join their hearts and hands together to accomplish great things without dialogic communication. Nigeria cannot workif our leaders cannot work together. Our leaders cannot work together for the common good as long as there is seeming or actual deficit of listening in their rank. It is dangerous to delegate authority to those you cannot pay attention to. It creates rooms for abuse of power.

When a leader is not an active listener, he indirectly fosters a sense of alienation among his followers. Social alienation is inimical to the egalitarian spirit that drives societal harmony and progress. It is a grave danger for leaders to be seen as alienating people from society.  The alienated often rebel. When misguided, they could engender mayhem and derail progress. Festering in despair is a cause and consequence of social alienation. This may explain why Amaechi in the leaked audio said hopelessness and helplessness are widespread.

Leading without listening is antidemocratic. It is a form of authoritarianism. It is animated by aI-know-it-all attitude. Leaders who are deluded into thinking that they have a monopoly of knowledge have difficulties appreciating the need to listen to others. Sadly, when leaders cease to be listeners, they become dictators.  True democracy cannot flourish without horizontal communication. Nigeria is too complex to thrive solely by top-down communication. Top-down communication creates a sense of voicelessness. Genuine democracy aspires to restore voice to the voiceless. So, our leaders should learn to listen.

Leading without listening leads to paucity of options. It sterilizes the public square, and creates a famine of idea. It is the quickest way to weaken the market place of idea. People do not render constructive ideas and criticisms when they are aware that their leaders do not listen. Their enthusiasm to share their knowledge, experiences, and solutions to problems wanes. The spirit of innovation dies where leaders do not listen. In other words, when leaders do not listen, they indirectly create a culture of mediocrity. Only mediocre painstakingly associates with leaders who do not esteem their vital essence and readily court their wisdom.

Leaders express the arrogance of ignorance when they speak more and listen less. It is said that followers do not care how much you know; they care about how much you care. A listening leader is a caring leader. A speaking leader is a showy leader. For a leader to be a burden bearer, he must first be a listener. Listening must precede helping; otherwise, the good intentions of leaders could become instigators of trouble.

There are few leaders in Nigeria, but officeholders are commonplace. They are everywhere. Officeholders get things done by using authority. Leaders get things done by influencing, persuading and involving people; all of these require active listening. We must not forget that true leadership is about working and achieving results through people. The only way a leader can get things done through people without listening to them is by manipulation. Sadly, manipulators lack the moral grace of leadership.