Why great leaders gain from criticism and others don’t

Bill Gates


On the 22nd of March, Bill Gates attended an expanded meeting of the national executive council (NEC), during which, he noted that,“Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world, ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, and Chad. One in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished.”

On the basis of this verifiable statistics he enjoined the government to prioritize investment in human capital above physical capital, which indeed is one of the objectives of the Economic Recovery and Plan.

According to news reports, the audaciousexecutive governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, bluntly retorted that Gates was wrong. Last week, in a seeming revisionist twist, Nasir el-Rufai, while speaking at the close of Kaduna Investment Summit, said his remarks were geared at putting “things in context.”

According to him, “What I told Mr. Gates is that you have identified the problem correctly, but you are looking at the wrong tier of government to handle it.” Furthermore, he stated that,“There is nothing wrong with attacking Bill Gates, we can differ, but that is not what happened, I merely explained the context, where the investment should be.”

Indeed, in the marketplace of ideas there is nothing wrong in offering critical, data-supported counter perspectives respectfully. Wise men differ. It is only in the gatherings of fools that uniformity of thought is a virtue.Nasir el-Rufai, was only exercising his fundamental right to freely participate in the public square.

One inspiring thing about the development is that it shows a shift. The political class in Nigeria is pathologically anglophiles, and by extension, lovers of everything American.Nasir el-Rufai’ssomewhat hasty retort shows that some of them have dealt with colonial hangovers and becoming critical of Euro-American messianic sentiments and prescriptions. This is not to allege that Gates propositions were avuncular or unfoundedly magisterial. Far from it!

In fact, it is sad that factual merits of Bill Gates diagnosis of Nigeria’s economic malady and his prescribed remedy were not considered objectively. Rather, they were politicized. Many staunch loyalists of President Buhari are regrettably questioning Gates’ credentials to counsel the federal government, since; he did not complete his studies at Harvard.

They seem to have conveniently forgotten that Gates “Foundation’s biggest office in Africa is here” in Nigeria.  They have also forgotten that the Gates “have committed over $1.6 billion in Nigeria so far” and they plan to increase their commitment to human capital development in Nigeria.

Many critics of Bill Gates’ sound counsel have forgotten that the Gates have selflessly devoted themselves to ensuring that everyone has unhindered access to “the basics of a good life: food, shelter, health, education, and opportunity.” Hence, they have become beacons of light and hopefor millions of the poorest of the poor.

The seemingly critical comments of Bill Gates about our nation’s economic trajectory was prefaced by optimistic commitment to our national development: “We are eager to support you as you work to make Nigeria a global economic powerhouse that provides opportunity for all its citizens—as you strive to fulfill this country’s immense promise.”  Evidences abound that this is not a mere ego-inflating statement.

Again, Bill Gates paid realistic tributes to our development stride. For example, consider his statement: “I’m blown away by how much Nigeria has changed in the past decade. Consider the technology sector. That energy I talked about during the early days of Microsoft, our passion and our eagerness to take risks…. That’s the same energy that powers technology hubs across Nigeria like Co-Creation and Enspire.”

It is important to state that the contributions of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to human development in Nigeria exceed that of many loquacious public figures that lack basic impulse control skills. If our leaders aspire to be filled with unconditional, selfless lovefor humanity like the Gates, Nigeria will become the epicenter of global attention, “a global economic powerhouse that provides opportunity for all its citizens.”

Most of our leaders should endeavor to glean wisdom from the former President Bill Clinton.  When Mother Teresa’s anti-abortion speech rattled the American ultra-liberal left, a reporter asked Bill Clinton how he felt about what Mother Teresa said about abortion. Clinton simply said: “How can anyone argue with a life so well-lived?” It is a mark of illiberality when leaders cannot handle criticism graciously and without heating the body polity.   Bill Clinton demonstrated the ethos of refined leadersby not attacking Mother Teresa, because of their discrepant views.

Multi-perspectival leaders are mostly world changers.  This is simply because; they are willing to see realities through the lenses of their critics. But ego-driven leaders cannot put down their colored lenses, glean knowledge and be guided wisely by critics’ assessment of their performance.  The truth is objective and informed critics offer consultancy services pro bono.  It will be a new dawn of great things in Nigeria when leaders start engaging critics as unpaid think tanks. For, they offer better advice than most politically appointed special advisers who do everything, but render expert advice.

One reason why Nigeria is struggling to reinvent itself and strategically position itself in the leading edge of global development is because our leaders cherish praise singers and abhor rational and depoliticized critiques. Insincere praise does not fuel brilliant achievements. In fact, dependence on praise singers could constitute psychologicaldeterrence; it could ruin the capacity to achieve great things. Ill-timed praises are cripplers, not enablers. If leaders and followers in this clime appreciate this truth we will end the culture of heaping accolades on mediocre.  The culture of excellence is endangered wherever people are fond of giving triumphs to laggards.

Result oriented leadership is not an exercise in improvement of emotional wellbeing or inflation of weak egos. In fact, emotional wellness and healthy egos are criteria for effective leadership. They should be inbuilt qualities of every leader, and not the goal of leadership. Without healthy ego and emotional wellness leaders cannot function without hypnotic praise singers. Their overzealous lieutenants will do anything possible to muffle the critical voice of reason.

Every leader’s field of vision is limited. Nobody leader can see everything and see rightly every time. Great leaders appreciate this truth. Hence, they surround themselves with men and women of keen foresight.  This makes their followers think they are omnificent, and have ready remedies to all ills.

The meaning of leadership will become experientially richer to virtually all Nigerians, if our leaders will develop the capacity to listen to all, actively listen to informed and depoliticized critics without preparing answers.   Great leaders shy away from verbal combat not because they cannot win, but because they know the futility of such victories.

By the way, to excel in philippic does not bestow honor on leaders. Rather, it could demean their prestige, and forestall the formation of broad alliance for societal transformation. Leaders develop a tendency to ignore truth when they become verbally combative.

A common assignment of every leader is to ensure that the health of civilization is well maintained.  Unfeigned openness to engage dissenting voices is vital to the wellbeing of civilization. It promotes collective efficiency in every human community and abates the occurrences of disruptive tensions.  In order words, for homeostasis to be a definer of Nigeria, we need more Gates. We need well-meaning truth tellers that will boldly call the attention of the elite class to their areas of shortcomings. Wealso need leaders like Bill Clinton. Leaders that know the functionality of counter-perspective.