One major weakness of top-level leaders is the ability to manage expressive people. In other words, the lack of skills in managing criticisms from subordinates or people considered low to them is one of the traits of positional leaders.
In the corporate world, I have witnessed and been a victim of high-handed leaders who resent opinions or comments contradictory to theirs, predominantly if expressed in public. In public, I mean at corporate meetings where views are required to make business decisions. It was so bad that participants in most organisations withheld their contributions for fear of retribution against them if their opinion contradicted that of the vital man or the prominent leader.
Wike is an expressive person. He represents emotional talent and will always contribute by either doing what is right in their capacity or voicing out their opinions no matter what. Most African leaders cannot stand those who are too emotional and who cannot join the train of people who will instead queue behind a wrong decision, massage the ego of the leaders, and avoid being seen as opposition.
The cost of keeping them quiet or re-engineering them to behave less like themselves is a denial of solutions or contributions to the team to which they belong
In Governor Nyesom Wike’s case, his open declaration for the states to collect the value-added tax, among others, was done in criticism of the ruling party. Still, it might have shown him as someone Atiku cannot easily manage. Like a typical African leader, Atiku will naturally prefer Okowa, who has been leading his state quietly with no outspokenness against the federal might and perceived injustice to revenue sharing. Wike’s outspokenness, though in favour of his party, the People’s Democratic Party, an opposition party, could have portrayed him as someone who cannot be the ‘mumu’ that is required to always say yes sir to the president. He is seen as someone whose ambition can rock the boat of peaceful governance if made the vice-president to an Atiku presidency.
Wike isn’t alone! Countless people are so emotionally tied to whatever they do that they always say it the way it is, which in most cases lands them into trouble. The cost of keeping people like Wike is a nemesis of the high-handed leadership against the bold and fearless followers. The bold and courageous in any setting, be it corporate or not-for-profit organisations or government, are people with value to offer. They are people who are emotionally attached and engaged with the objectives they want to achieve for the organisation or themselves. The cost of keeping them quiet or re-engineering them to behave less like themselves is a denial of solutions or contributions to the team to which they belong.
Atiku was right to choose his VP aspirant. I believe he has the right to have preferred Okowa ahead of Wike for reasons of Wike’s records of contributory aggressions against the Federal Government and within his party. However, they will strive to correct how Atiku and his team managed the process as a nemesis. A person like Nyesom Wike should have been handled better. A decision to take the VP’s slot from a person with 14 out of 17 voices in the steering committee should not have been treated with levity as it was. Suppose Atiku and his team meant the words they used to describe Okowa in Atiku’s announcement of his VP. In that case, there is no need to appeal to Wike and his followers.
In Atiku’s words, Okowa is a president in waiting. That line says the other contestants for the position are less quality than Okowa. Appealing to Wike either through a committee or directly is like retracting all the good words pronounced in the announcement of Okowa as the VP’s aspirants. That is where I have a massive problem with Atiku’s words and his intentions. Going to appease Wike shows that we are being deceived and are likely going in the wrong direction with Atiku’s presidency. Nigeria, at this stage, deserves a leader that will align his words and actions in the same order.
Back to my experience in the corporate world, leaders who couldn’t withstand their expressive followers lose out on the brilliancy of their people. I have seen organisations where it went so bad that people are being appealed to at meetings to say their minds in the business’ best interest. In one of the organisations, competent top-level staff will be at meetings without making contributions to preserve their dignity. This is because they have seen the leadership style of the managing director to be ‘yes sir’ with less accommodation for contrary opinions. In some organisations, people who are expressive are marked. Marked in the sense that they are not sacked because they are brilliant but have been noted for frustration and to be exited in the future. They are marked to be denied opportunities to advance their career.
An exception was in one of the examples I shared where a senior member of a bank decided to go against the flow at the meetings. The meeting will always start with the CEO’s opening remarks and positions on the subject of discussions. Everyone, including all the executive directors, is fond of starting their comments with support for what the CEO has said and his position. The change came when one expressive staff below the executive directors challenged everyone at the meeting to think and proffer solutions independent of the CEO’s opening position. The CEO did something different. Rather than being highhanded against the fearless officer, he applauded his audacity. He decided to mentor him for higher responsibility which led to the officer being seconded to be the CEO of a subsidiary bank. That CEO was said to be Erastus Akingbola and the expressive man was Akin Ajayi, a former managing director of the defunct Equity Bank of Nigeria.
For all leaders, dealing with expressive people is a skill set that is essential for managing top-level talents. Expressiveness is an explicit intention to contribute and shows the person’s engagement level to the organisation’s objective or the cause of pursuit. From experience, I have learned to be expressive without being seen as a rebel. In a simple sense, be expressive toward the solution, not as a critic to save the sword and make meaning to the high-handed leaders. The nemesis of thinking expressive people are anti-your leadership is the loss of valuable input and contributions.