Stage timing of an effective leader

The Reverend: Jan Scholtz

It is an age old question. What is the perfect time for a leader to step down and handover the reins of leadership to others? When has a leader overstepped their efficient capacity?

There are two schools of thought regarding this. The first being that the leader exits the stage after completion of their primary mission set upon appointment or as per mandate provided. Some goals are best achieved when driven by a leader who throws their ethos into their governance and drive process towards growth and success. Leaders such as the late Apple CEO, Steve Jobs or the current President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame fostered innovation and expedient growth while maintaining a hold on leadership for a significant amount of time. With the support of their respective shareholders/electorate, they held positions of power which allowed them to drive their vision unimpeded by worries of electioneering. These visions have resulted in Apple being a well-known mobile technology brand and Rwanda standing as a beacon of innovation and technology for Africa. These successes were not derived from short bursts of leadership, but extended tenures which have allowed for continuity and focus to accentuate these outcomes.

The second school of thought states that the above scenario is mythical. In his study of leaders, Howard Gardner observed, “Sooner or later, nearly all leaders outreach themselves and end up undermining their causes”. (Gardener, Leading Minds, 262)

Leaders who have made a commitment to continuously grow and learn have no need to keep a vice grip on the post, because they know God has new challenges for them and they are ready to embrace His next assignment. Therefore it is necessary for incoming leaders to seek God’s direction for the organisation just as their predecessors did. A classic Biblical example of a leader who overstayed his mandate was King Hezekiah. King Hezekiah wept and prayed humbly to God to extend his tenure, and God granted him 15 additional years of life, and during his extended tenure he made major blunders by prolonging his leadership beyond what God ordained, Hezekiah planted the seed for his nation’s demise. (2Kings 18-20)

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Normally the last person to recognise that a man’s mental faculties are fading is the victim himself… I have seen many a man hang on too long under the definite impression that he had a great duty to perform and that no one else could adequately fill his particular position after he worried he would not be recognised when his leadership abilities began to wane.” (Ambrose, Eisenhower, 394). A case in point might be the late President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. He led his country through a series of massive transformation in his early years, making Zimbabwe an agricultural hub and ensuring education was available to all its citizens. His decisions in latter stages, in the eyes of some depending on one’s ‘convictions’, led to the societal and economic upheaval of his country.

Some leaders may genuinely want what is best for the organisation, yet they are reluctant to relinquish the prestige and financial benefit to which they are accustomed, but leaders with integrity recognise they have made their most worthwhile contributions and they graciously hand over the reins of leadership to a new generation.

What are the warnings and signs for a leader to know when is the right time to leave the stage? In any given leadership structure, the organisational performance gives a clear message as to when a leader has to leave the stage, warnings and signs to consider are not limited to:

• When an organisation continually struggles

• When it regularly loses to the competition

• When no new ideas are being generated

• When key personnel is leaving

• When morale is chronically low

• When there is a sign of a siren behind you

•When there is no exciting anticipation for the future. Something needs to change.

Developing a healthy awareness timing of leaving the stage is a vital element for every effective leader to follow, this should remind us constantly of what a well-known Kenyan professor, Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba once said, “A good dancer must know when to leave the stage, even when the applause is loud”.

Reverend Jan. A. Scholtz is the ||Kharas Regional Chairperson and !Nami#nus Constituency Regional Councillor and is a holder of Diploma in Theology, B-Theo (SA), a Diploma in Youth Work and Development from the University of Zambia (UNZA), Diploma in Education III (KOK) BA (HED) from UNISA

(This article is written in his personal capacity).

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