“Youthful Exuberance” in Leadership – Can Mahama do Better in Ghana?

By Kwaku A. Danso

Former Ghana President Rawlings mention of the fact that due to the late President Mills illness he was only capable of working 3 hours per day seems awkward to many in our culture of humans that I have studied, not only in Ghana but even in America. You just don’t use certain words and don’t usually criticize a leader or person who just passed in those words.

There is feeling among some Ghanaians that the assumption of office of a younger person in Ghana necessarily will mean improvement in performance. It is quite possible when I was a young man I may have thought the same. However, now that I am 65 and know myself, I’d like to answer that question and explain something and share about the impact of youth, age, maturity, experience, on the human mind and executive performance. Are today’s youth taught and have the dedication, love for country, integrity, the skills and characteristics to make effective executive decisions of leadership? Mahama seems in his 50s but can he do better due to his youth? My uncle I am sure would ask: Can he crack a whip?

One member of GLU wrote this and this is my response:

“Now that we know that President Mills could only function for three hrs a day, all this time some people were deciding for him. Now the truth is known about the deceased President Mills dismal performance. Let us give President Mahama the chance here as he is going to call his own shots. I am glad of what he got going for him, and that is the youthful exuberance. He will do better than his predecessor” (Kwame Sarpong, GLU forum, Thursday, July 26, 2012 8:47 AM)

You make me smile – not total laughter. You don’t sound like a man who can crack a whip! Come oooon! Ever worked in a high pressure environment?

An Akan proverb suggests that you can predict how a dance or party is going to go from the early music and atmosphere. One can judge a man and his administration in his first week and then say 10-30 days. When electricity complaints occur in Houston, say in an emergency, does it take a week to get reports?

Look, folks, youth has nothing to do with it, and I am not asking President Mahama (nor Mills when he was alive) to climb electricity pole to fix wires! At the age of 50, a man who knows what he is doing will not forget them at 68 or even later, or when he is on his death bed. I am almost 66 and the only thing I don’t remember well but can easily look up maybe the high level equations we studied in Physics and Engineering to pass the exams, but decisions on how to crack the whip? Come oooon!

Look, if this will help, let me say that age has not slowed my mind much. I can,, well,, I mean my mind, can even predict the trend of modern technology – I can tell you all the direction in which high tech electronics (Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, Amazon) products will go. Don’t be surprised to see your Tablets have a small RAM Memory and Hard Drive Memory in the near future so you can do a little bit of work when on the road or waiting at the doctor’s office. The only thing my body is complaining about these days is waking up in the night since I don’t listen to the Doctor’s advice not to eat or drink at night and losing sleep drains my energy the next day! But I have control over it,, and I pay the price. I am still watching you all called youth and when I see somebody smarter for the job, I will tell you.

Can one predict President Mahama?

I have personally met President Mahama at close quarters at the Achimota golf Course in 2010. I sincerely think he is a charming and affable person. Can he deliver? We don’t know yet. He just published a book launched last week, by coincidence. I am not being harsh but right now Mahama is on the spot and I challenge him to announce how he is going to direct and manage to solve the problems facing the nation and people that we all know for years: the distribution of water, electricity, communication services and decent roads even in areas where people have money to pay! Well,, shall we add how he plans to eliminate open sewage in Ghana? How he plans to maintain the Sport Tourism he talked about at the Achimota Golf Club anniversary. Shall we add also how he plans to have residential roads built to specifications not to see potholes every year! How he plans to ease traffic in Accra by calling on his own younger brother Engineer to help us design traffic flow /transportation around Accra and our major cities?

Look, my brothers and sisters African men and women, don’t give too much excuses to yourselves. All the man has to do if he has ever managed a house construction project, a carpentry shop, a farm, a cattle herding enterprise, a whore house, a spare parts shop at Abose-Okai or Kumasi Magazine (Business management expertise can be learnt in every enterprise) is to announce his Vision, Set the Goals and Objectives with time schedules, appoint the right Managers or Directors, and every week or month meet and monitor the progress- and crack the whip!! All Management in life takes a similar fashion as described!

Was President Mills capable?

I am not here to praise the dead but 3 hours per day was enough for President Mills. Some are making too much of what was reported yesterday by former President Rawlings in an interview. To cite a personal example, in 1978 December I had a fire accident and sustained 3rd degree burns at home when I worked at Texas Instruments. I was at home and being paid, I think for 2 months and my boss, a nice white woman (my only boss who was a woman), called and explained to me: “Kwaku, just drag yourself in to the office and you will not be put in a long term disability, which will cut your pay in half”. Well, I did and all I had to do for a few weeks was drag myself, literally in pain, to the office and issue directions to my technicians and evaluate tests being done. It was my mind they were paying me for, not my body! President Mills’ clear mind was the issue during those 3 hours in the day. African leaders like to give too many excuses! A capable man who knows what he is doing can dictate all orders and ask the Secretary to write them down at a Cabinet Meeting and next week ask for status updates.

Should disability be a limitation? In America don’t we see cripples in wheel chairs performing tasks? Anybody who has worked for a Major American or European/Western corporation at the level of Management will know what I am talking about. The CEO is hardly seen daily except in Meetings, and he knows what projects the companies was supposed to be working on and in slide presentations, the VPs and Directors will be giving their presentations and he simply critiques. Again a personal example, I remember one time having to give a Presentation like that at a top level meeting in 2001, and that was my first time and I used the Professorial approach, trying to explain things,,. Well, the CEO gave me a kick in the butt, as Americans call it, by saying something like “everybody knows these,, keep going”. Of course I was a little nervous my first major presentation but the man’s comment gave me the impression they all in the room were capable Engineers and Managers and should know that elementary stuff – just show the STATUS and RESULTS!

Managerial skills and decision-making experience are two of the most important elements missing in African leadership today. Of course there are other skills. I sincerely wish Western Universities would not allow degrees to be granted to African Students until the host societies have provided them opportunities for at least 2 years work experience in industry before these students pack their bags and go home, eventually rising to high positions. Germany, I understand, used to have mandatory training in Engineering but I am not sure if they still do. To be honest I feel disgusted in any man in power who talks about electricity being a problem in his area and says “even my own house has similar problems”. For God’s sake, when are African leaders going to learn to crack the whip, as my uncle would put it!

Another friend Alex wrote that I should “cut the new President Mahama some slack”, since he just assumed office.

No, Alex, I am not giving President Mahama any slack at all,, just like I was never given any slack when my projects were due and I had to give status reports and presentations, in order to earn some money to build those properties in Ghana! Yes, the Lawyers among us can adjourn the case and come back another day, but Alex, you are an Engineer and you know there is a cane on your back to deliver on time else your food is eaten by your competitor! In Ghana our competitor may be the American company who is trying to decide where to locate his $50 million small Assembly Factory in a third world nation and trying to decide between Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda under Paul Kagame, and South Africa! It could be a clothing factory who is to invest $20 million to manufacture clothing since Chinese made clothing is being rejected by American now for the poor quality. I see on the market clothes made in Honduras, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, etc, all of them better than the Chinese made clothes, and I for one stopped buying “made in China”. I see nothing from Ghana and I get annoyed and wonder if the coup makers and their cohorts never had any brains in their heads as to how to stimulate such industries and watched them collapse, perhaps some rejoicing! Worse than Animal behavior!! Gyamfi Brothers and so forth, whatever happened to them? !

Ghana started on a good footing and today we are too far behind. If a job needs to be done, we cannot afford to wait till the next day, Period!!

Mahama cannot tell me he does not know who he would like to be his Vice President! Just call whoever you have in mind and in a 2 hour interview, and submit his or her name to Parliament for Vetting tomorrow morning! No! I am not cutting any African leader any more slack. Let him tell those people surrounding his house waiting to shake his hands to go home so he can work!! Many in Ghana are sick and tired of the Speaker and Leaders in Parliament spending without limits and without a budget, and then acting as if there is infinite time! The youth can run fast but leadership takes making executive decisions and experience is what counts. Let Mahama limit the talk but show us his PLAN and act now, and in two weeks we will all know if there is hope or not for Ghana.

Source: Kwaku A. Danso, M.Eng., PhD (Organization & Management/Leadership)

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