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January 21, 2019

The making of a good leader: Part two

I was watching two wildebeests that had been leading a large group down to the river. Not to drink, but to cross.

Normally, wildebeests travel in very large herds, especially so, when they are migrating from Serengeti to Maasai Mara. In such large congregation, any individual can take up the mantle of leadership. It only takes one to start moving, and the whole herd will follow.

Wherever he goes, the herd will go. No wonder then, the leader must know where they ought to be, and how to get there. It all adds up then, when you are watching the start of a move, only the old and experienced sets the pace and direction.

But since they do not have a definite leader like the territorial animals do, after every stop for grazing, a different individual will set off the group. Should the group become dissatisfied by the direction taken by the leader of the moment, which often happens, the group reacts by slowing the pace and letting the leading individual find himself too lonely in front of all the others.

He will also stop, or retreat to the group and pose for a moment before another one decides to change the direction all together. If no decision is taken for some time, and if there is another group far off but on the move, then any one of the front liners will move towards the neighbour’s line and join. It is possible to see a line that was several hundred meters suddenly become several kilometers long after two or more groups join together. But as soon as a new challenge is met along the way, they will have to stop, regroup and wait patiently for another leader to take over and show the way forward. That is why I was watching the group that had just arrived at the river, to see how they overcome this particular challenge. I am still thinking how much of animals we are.

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail, Harold R. McAlindon once said.

The leading male approached the cliff, had a quick look at the river and retreated immediately, like one who had seen the devil in the river. The one behind had not seen the river bellow. It hit him suddenly, that he was facing the river, and he was the leader. He didn't like the situation. He retreated as fast as the first one, exposing the view of the river to the nearest wildebeest, who also found a way to backtrack. A circle begun to form at the front of the group, with each individual coming to the edge of the river and immediately turning away. No one wanted to make the first move into the river. The consequences were too much to bear.

Meanwhile, the line was still spilling more wildebeests to the crossing point. The front ones could not get to the back and the new arrivals wanted to cross to the greener pastures over the river. The push and pull was taking its toll. Some wildebeests inside the group started fighting among themselves and created a commotion that was pushing those close to the river, further down the cliff. Down in the river, the crocodiles were waiting. They knew it was just a matter of time before dinner was served. Up above, the wildebeests knew of the presence of the monsters, but they also knew there will be a sacrifice to get across the crocodiles. They probably were pushing the leaders to be the sacrificial lambs for the group to reach the promised land.

When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that person is crazy, Dave Barry says.

The crazy one of the wildebeests did not waste time. He jumped into the river and began swimming across. Seconds after he did that, his second in command went in. soon, the whole group wanted to be in the river all at the same time. Chaos erupted as masses squeezed through the narrow path to get to the river. Some were even jumping over the cliff, five meters high, into the river. The crocodiles were afraid to make any move. It was evident that they would be trampled on. They also retreated to a distance and watched. Like I was watching.

After a few minutes, and a hundred plus wildebeests across the river, calm was restored at the crossing. The wildebeests were getting into the river in a well-coordinated single line and not in any hurry to get across. That was exactly what the crocodiles were waiting for. They swam slowly under the water and got to the attacking positions close to the line of the wildebeests, and at the deepest part of the river. And then, the disappearance begun. One by one, young and old, weak and strong, they just disappeared into the silent flowing river. When they reappeared a distance away, they were all dead. By then, the leaders that were supposed to have been the sacrificial lambs had already arrived in the promised land.

A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees further than others see, and who sees before others see. – Leroy Eimes

As a parting shot, we all need to remember this.

Anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm - Publilius Syrus

Merry Christmas lovely Kenyans.

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