How to Lead (and Succeed) Tanzanian-Style

Just back from my second trip to Tanzania.  It was a memorable experience on all fronts, including close encounters with lions and other ‘big five’ species: elephants, giraffe, zebra, and hippos (OK, not so close with the hippos). We trekked through the bush, accompanied by Maasai warriors carrying bows and arrows and spears—our security detail. When we weren’t hiking, we were jostling around in Land Rovers, crossing through herds of Wildebeest and Impala, and caking up with African savannah dust, which only brought us closer to the land, in all its gritty beauty, power and mystery.

For all the power and beauty I experienced on this trip, what has stuck with me most is something I didn’t expect at all—learning how Tanzania came to be, and how its first president, Julius Nyerere, led the country in innovative ways that helped establish a self-sufficient nation; this, despite many political, economic and social challenges. The most interesting idea Nyerere invoked was something called people-centered leadership. It’s an idea that holds intriguing possibilities for leaders of all stripes.

In short, people-centered leadership calls for inviting those you lead to tell you, collectively, where they want to go and, by extension, how that direction will benefit everyone.

From Egypt to Yemen, Bahrain, Iran and Libya, protesters — young and old — are calling for changes in leadership, for a voice in how their nations are governed and, by extension, where they’re going. These uprisings underscore the enormous sea change in where the power really lies these days: As counter-intuitive as this may sound in conventional, corporate terms, it lies increasingly with the many, not the few.

We have technology to thank (or blame) for this sea change. From the web and texting, to ever-expanding social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, change is being fomented overnight. This dynamic isn’t limited to nations. It’s permeating the world of business.

As a management practice, people-centered leadership is an idea whose time may be now. The aim isn’t to abdicate leadership at the top; it’s to liberate the extraordinary knowledge, deep experience and diverse ideas that reside across the company. The aim is to engage people in answering a vital, strategic question: What’s possible? Is people-centered leadership the key to 21st century innovation, writ large?

Have a view on people-centered leadership and what it means for managing organizations? Speak here!

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Flickr photo courtesy of David Berkowitz

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