New Leaders Developing Through More Responsibility

Of Bicycles and Leadership

What’s the missing ingredient in International Development? This has long been debated as aid has continued to fail to work. I’ve been thinking about “leadership” as the missing ingredient in development efforts. You can pour all the money in the world into a leaderless pit of bureaucracy and never fill it in. Indeed, most of Africa has proved this these past few decades. What is lacking are strong leaders: people whose concerns rise above themselves, people who will improve their circumstance and that of their people no matter the condition. With these people, there is hope. Without them, there isn’t. And Nuru has, from the beginning, focused on the development of leaders.

I used to believe that leadership was something you were born with or you weren’t. But after seeing many non-leaders become leaders in my life, I’ve reversed my position.

It’s been one year since the Field Officers first took their positions on the healthcare team. Seven farmers with only one high school diploma between them rose to the challenge and decided to take these new leadership positions. Many of them had never been in leadership before.  They worked for six months in these roles without pay, and then were paid a salary of $45 per month. Since then, they’ve been tireless. While farming several acres each, they work daytime hours as Field Officers, and then spend nights taking care of their wives and children.

I described in my last post how they were speaking publicly and doing much of the work in the meetings. But we need leaders of a higher level than that, and lots of them, too. Our programs are extremely ambitious and we need good people. But how do you train good leaders?

How do you learn to ride a bike? In the US, when we want to teach a child to ride a bike, we put training wheels on a child-sized bike. In Kenya, there are no child-sized bikes and there are no training wheels. A child desiring to ride a bike must figure out how to adjust to the bike and must learn by many a bump and bruise. I’ve seen children who don’t reach up to the top of the frame riding bikes; they’ll stand on the side of the bike, reach for the handlebars, and then jump up and down on a single pedal to propel the bike.

So how do you learn to ride a bike? Bicycle riding is not a piece of knowledge. You can read a book on the physics of bicycles, or techniques for riding them, but that has nothing to do with the ability to ride a bike. You just have to do it. Over and over again. You’ll probably fall again and again and again. But there’s no other way to learn how to ride a bicycle. And I think the same thing is true of leadership.

Now it is time for the Field Officers to take the next step. We will leap from light management tasks and public speaking to real live projects. Projects which will depend on them. Projects that they can screw up or make succeed. Projects that they own. Next week, the training wheels are coming off.

We’ve divided up the healthcare program into seven major areas, and we are assigning each of those areas to a Field Officer. There will be supervision, but these projects are being released next week.

The difficult part will be to watch the healthcare program as this learning happens. It will look like a bad idea for a while because there will be more failures. But these are necessary bruises. And, God willing, they will heal while the Field Officers grow into a powerful and dynamic team of mature leaders who can guide the continued improvement of health in this community.

About David Carreon

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