As someone who has always been involved in leadership, and leadership positions, from a very young age, one of the most influential persons in my life, once advised me: “a great leader surrounds him or herself with those more knowledgeable than him or her, and also those courageous enough to rebuke him or her when he or she goes wrong” – a piece of phenomenal wisdom, that I endeavored to abide by throughout my life, as it has always proven to be the cornerstone of any of my successful undertakings – on the other hand, ignoring these ‘words of life’, inevitably led to failure.
Indeed, it is never easy religiously committing to such fundamental principles – predominantly, due to our natural aversion to being criticized, and an unhealthy sense of egoism, that makes many leaders have delusions of grandeur and infallibility, thereby tempting them into surrounding themselves with bootlickers, praise-singers, and hero-worshippers…a catastrophic illusion that has led to their unsurprising downfall.
The best way to describe bootlickers, praise-singers, and hero-worshippers is, “a bunch of parasitic vermin, whose only contribution to a leader is to suck him or her dry, without adding anything of value into his or her leadership”.
No wonder, even into my marriage, I chose someone who would pull me to the limit – and, I would do the same to her – as we call it, “iron sharpening iron”, which manages to bring out the most out of us, since, a one-sided relationship, whereby one partner is subservient to the other, only brings out the worst in both.
This, then, brings us to the extremely tragic and retrogressive situation we, unfortunately, have endured in Zimbabwe’s body politic, from the day this country attained independence from Britain in 1980 – where, we have had a ‘one-man state’, in which, most (if not all) power has been entrusted in the president, especially after the establishment of the executive presidency in 1990.
As much as the country’s current constitution goes to some extent in establishing checks and balances between the three tiers of government – nonetheless, events on the ground prove that, the executive, legislature, and judiciary appear subservient to only one person.
Nonetheless, this bootlicking, praise-singing, and hero-worshipping is not limited to those pillars of the state, but cascade down to the ruling ZANU PF party, and other quasi-state institutions, such as pubic media.
In fact, what drove me to write this article, was watching a troubling report on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) lunchtime news bulletin, whereby a reporter, apparently outdoing himself in the art of bootlicking, went on about the president’s (and, his government’s) wisdom in removing laws that inhibited foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country’s mining sector – under which, previously, foreign investors would only hold 49 percent shareholding in any mining venture (irrespective, of how much they had injected), whereas, government would be awarded the remaining 51 percent.
To say I was dumbfounded by such praise-singing, is the understatement of the decade. Why?
Well, simply because, that is what some of us – who are regularly accused of being ‘anti-government’, ‘detractors’, ‘dark forces’, and ‘bad apples’ – have been calling upon for the past two decades, ever since this insane law was enacted.
Did we not say the very same thing? Did we not caution this very same government – which, the disingenuous ZBC reporter had the audacity to characterize as ‘wise’ – that, placing such misguided laws would dissuade any right-thinking investor from putting his hard-earned money into our mining sector?
Did anyone listen? No. Actually, we were insulted, and labelled any vitriolic name under the sun!
Would it not have served our country better, had the government listened to our concerns – or, at least, seriously considered their validity, and appreciated that we were not some wayward and treasonous ‘enemies of the state’, who wished our nation harm – but, that we are well-meaning patriots, who appreciate the phenomenal value of criticism and rebuke, as a key component in development, progress, and democracy?
Maybe, if our leaders – as a matter of fact, if all Zimbabweans – recognized and finally woke up to the fact that, criticism is never a form of disrespect, but a necessary panacea to any individual’s, entity’s, community’s, or country’s advancement – because, this encourages the free sharing and flow of varied opinions and ideas, which, fundamentally, results in much better policies and programs.
Criticism and rebuke is entirely different from insulting and demeaning someone. There is a world of difference.
As far as I am concerned – based on my own over three decades of leadership experience – the greatest love anyone can show another, is to freely express his or her criticism and rebuke whenever he or she perceives (rightly, or wrongly) anything they may not agree with, or fully understand, as that leads to the sharing of varied ideas, resulting in personal improvement, if received properly, and with grace.
If ever there is a surest and swiftest way to one’s own demise – then, surround yourself with bootlickers, praise-singers, and hero-worshippers, whose only role in your life is to watch you make catastrophic decisions, whilst, applauding your ‘wisdom’, and ‘great leadership’ – and, then unceremoniously ditch you, and laugh at you, when the inevitable finally happens.
© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263733399640 / +263715667700, or Calls Only: +263782283975, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.