Puppet Masters

08/02/2012 01:12 pm ET | Updated Oct 02, 2012

Three things have happened recently, in a timely manner, or should I say 'Untimely'... seeing that one has to do with the death of my country's president, President John Atta Mills. The other two are my reading of The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli and my upcoming visit to Italy, the country that serves as the backdrop to his writings.

It is interesting for me to once again immerse myself in this timeless piece and to appreciate how little has really changed. Though opinions may vary on this, the deep insights of Machiavelli and the continued relevance of his expositions cannot be overlooked -- especially when I turn my sights to Africa. The subject of leadership or rulers on the continent is very topical.

How they get power, stay in power, manipulate the system and become pawns in many instances with or without their knowledge and ultimately even victims, may be an interesting field of study.

As Professor Ronald Heifetz and Dean Williams emphasize in their teachings on real leadership, being an authority figure, either appointed or elected, does not amount to exercising Leadership. They argue that conversely, it is a more difficult task to exercise leadership when one has authority. Real leadership may therefore be a more transient enterprise in that, Leaders emerge in specific situations and circumstances to mobilize a people in a direction that progresses their human condition and usually step back after their feat. In many instances, they may not necessarily have the authority to do so. Their success therefore teeters mainly on their ability to understand the system and build the necessary partnerships to enable them intervene in the problematic situation. This may be difficult to appreciate, especially as the world's notion of a leader is the alpha male who beats his chest and walks like the silver-back Gorilla, impressing the masses with his brilliance and vision.

If one considers it closely though, a few factors that allow this alpha male to stand tall are of interest to me in this conversation -- on whose shoulders he stands. Allow me to call them the 'puppet masters.' We never ever stop to consider closely who the puppet masters are and how this set is really the real rulers of a people. Usually, to become a puppet master, you must have contributed significantly to the ruler gaining his position and in our times, this is mainly financially, emotionally and physically. These groups of people, especially in our African circumstances, have a lot to gain from the status quo and will do anything to defend it. One of Machiavelli's favorite quotes, "The innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new," is quite poignant in this regard.

How then can a ruler ever hope to change the system in any true fashion without sacrificing his position? For fear of losing the favor of and displeasing his benefactors, he therefore becomes a prisoner in the very position of "power" he sort. Where therefore does his power begin and end? As Machiavelli again discusses, these 'Nobles' or benefactors, whatever you may choose to call them, may take away or threaten the power of the ruler as soon as it becomes clear that s/he no longer serve their ends and may intend to change the order of things as they exist! Machiavelli advocates therefore that the only secure source of power, is with the people themselves (the masses)...

When I look around, I am positive that there are many leaders today who in their hearts, wish if for nothing else but for the sake of legacy, to make real changes for good, to progress the human condition of their people. But alas, the debt they owe their masters may simply not allow them to. It is simply too complicated.

And so I advocate, that when we feel disappointed in our 'leader's' leadership or lack thereof, perchance an innovative approach is to begin to look around for who the puppet masters are? Perchance, we may push this conversation to the forefront of the conversations that should be had when we are considering who our leaders should be?

As my dear country, Ghana enters into elections soon, my heart beats to know and see who our next puppet masters will be. In the meantime, let us remember that real leadership does not require any stamp of authority, but you gain authority by your very act of leadership. And do feel free to quit when you begin to amass your own puppet masters, as they are sure to come! Give it to them, they have a good sense to migrate when they sense the direction of the river... and so I wonder whom next our puppet masters will latch onto?

May the soul of our dear president rest in peace, where at least, his only puppet master may be the good Lord...