ROTARY LEADERSHIP: Bearing Witness with Dignity and Service


Nigeria is a reputed country of missed opportunities for want of selfless leadership. Nigeria’s many years have been lost to wasteful, visionless squander mania as rampant, unchecked elite egoism has smothered many a promising grand idea. The country is today a huge graveyard: a cemetery littered with shattered dreams, dashed hopes, and asphyxiated aspirations.


If Nigeria will surmount its present predicament, leaders must learn to offer themselves for common good. Greatness never comes by accident, nor is it imposed by divinity on an unwilling people. ‘A country, like a person, must prepare-be prepared- for greatness. It starts with dreaming greatness, imagining it, contemplating what it must take, and deciding that the venture is worth the risk, that we are willing to invest the time, intellect and material resources to translate the dreamed into reality.’[1]


Sad enough, we are not prepared for change. Read Nigerian newspaper or watch any Nigerian television station and you are bound to realize this. It is all about one empty-headed politician decamping from one political party to another; one squabble or another between two politicians or two political parties; one hireling or another warning that power must stay where it is or must be transferred to a person from a different geo-ethnic sector, or it is hell in Nigeria; some pastors or imam declaiming that God whispered into his/her ears that Nigeria must fast and pray more.


I am glad that we are here tonight to talk leadership. This is because leadership has become an exclusive power club which one gets into and becomes more or less immune to accountability, openness, and heir to privileges.



Leadership is a burden, a responsibility. It is a process of directing people’s behaviour towards realizing some set objectives in line with organizational policies, procedures, and job descriptions. It is a process by which a person influences and motivates others to accomplish willingly an objective or task that they would not have willing accomplished and directs the organisation in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent.

Good leadership is a fair distribution of rights and privileges among members who form social contract by one who has the care of the community. It doesn’t matter if the resources are enough. Commitment to goodwill, sincerity and fairness makes a good or bad leader. It is this prudence that connects leadership to management which itself consists of rational assessment of situations and the systematic selection and prioritizing of goals and purposes; systematic development of strategies to achieve these goals; the marshalling of the  required resources; the rational design, organisation, direction and control of the activities required to attain the selected purposes.


A good leader must be therefore technically proficient. He must seek and take responsibility of his actions. He must make sound and timely decisions. He must set example, know his people and look out for their well-being. Good leaders develop through a never ending process of self-study, education, training, and experience. To inspire good leadership, there are certain things one must BE, KNOW and DO.

A leader must BE

  1. Able to use power effectively and in responsible manner. Power is the ability to induce or influence the beliefs or actions of others.
  2. Able to comprehend that human beings have different motivating forces at different times and in different situations
  3. Able to inspire
  4. Able to act in a manner that will develop a climate conducive to responding to and arousing motivations

A good leader must KNOW how to

  1. challenge the process;
  2. inspire a vision;
  3. enable others to act;
  4. model the way;
  5. encourage the heart.

A leader according to Stephen R. Covey must acquire the following seven habits

  1. Be proactive- this is about making things happen
  2. Begin with the end in mind-energy flows where attention goes.
  3. Put first things first-scale of preference
  4. Think win/win-principle of interpersonal leadership
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood-principle of empathic communication
  6. Synergize-create more together with others than we can by ourselves.
  7. Sharpen the saw-making up for lost time



As the world changes so is leadership. People are becoming more critical to what leaders do. The freedom of the press has come with its emphasis on the public’s right to know. The right to knowledge is not just knowing why, when and how mangoes ripe; it extends to knowing the size of our genitals and what we do with them. It is no longer time of leaving tendencies, actions and inactions to God who sees in secret; man now seeks to know as much as God knows. The spirit of the age has meant that businesses would spend a vast amount of time on corporate compliance, that the police have to confront accusations of being ‘institutionally corrupt’, that the army has to think about the rights of women and HIV/AIDS carriers in its ranks, instead of devoting its energies to working out what it needs to fight. They also mean that parliaments of world democracies can no longer trust themselves to behave ethically and are setting up ethics committees. Even the intelligence services have to go to court- and may well lose- when they seek to defend the secrecy on which their work depends.[2] And I am afraid that very soon, the would-be pope may have to present CVs and fill application forms, going against the ancient principle of God’s choice.


So much of the public right to know is good but there is a cost being paid in areas of leadership and conscience formation. As this right grows so is media profession going arrogant. Where once journalists waited, too differentially outside the door of great politician or prelate or soldier to favour them with bland words, today, they barge in, too arrogantly, to interrogate and arraign. Journalists are inclined to abuse their profession. The one who brings a message soon ascertains that his role gives him power. By giving a false message, or an exaggerated one, by withholding a message or by delivering it at a great speed, by shouting it out when it should be spoken softly or by whispering it when it should be proclaimed from the housetops, he can affect events, advance or retard someone’s cause, earn money or lose it, make or break a career. The journalist knows this and unless he is a saint, he will sometimes exploit this knowledge. Regrettably, no journalist is a saint.[3]


Today, we have moved in frightening short time from an era in which leaders got away with outrageous abuses of power because no one could question their authority to one in which any care-giver or leader lives in daily danger of having his reputation blackmailed by the witch-hunters of abuses. Every adult leader has been declared guilty until he proves his innocence. Those in authority have become more pre-occupied with self-protecting procedures than with the needs of the people they serve, and power shifts to ‘fault-finders’. They are two areas where leadership has lost focus generally:

  1. There is a decline in brave leadership convictions. If you are constantly subject to a scrutiny which tends to see you as guilty unless you are proved innocent, you will become more and more risk-averse. If you always have to look over your shoulder, you cannot look forward. There is increasing reluctance to bear witness. In political circle, the main thing politicians try to do during electioneering is to avoid what lobby journalists call ‘gaffe’. They deliver thousands of words of speech but they know that 99 per cent of these will pass unnoticed. What they fear is one sentence or phrase that will get them in trouble. The journalist, Jeremy Paxman thought it quite appropriate to ask Mr. Hague of UK why nobody liked him, why he wouldn’t let his wife speak in public and similar questions which if asked of one ordinary citizen by another would earn the questioner a punch on the nose. But the conviction of the age meant that Mr. Hague had to answer with studious politeness. He was guilty until proven innocent. Who can you think of, in our public life today, who says something so strongly and boldly that you can remember it afterwards? Who in senior public positions believes that he or she will get necessary support if he tries to do or say anything that is difficult? Where are the prophetic voices? Where are the Florence Nightingale, Matthew Arnold or John Ruskin or J. M. Keynes or Cobden or Wilberforce or Cobbett? [4]
  2. Again, the media has set itself as prosecution, judge and jury without giving the accused the due process of law. In pursuit of possible iniquity, they regard almost any method of inquiry as legitimate, climbing over walls, hacking e-mails and breaking into people’s call/sms logs in the name of the public’s right to know. The News of the World’s publication of a list of the whereabouts of sex offenders with spent convictions was particularly a horrifying example. That led to mob violence.


To accept leadership position is to put oneself under public scrutiny of money, sex and power which are the crying need of an age[5]  obsessed with finding possible iniquities. A leader’s reputation depends on prudence. And once reputation slips off a leader he becomes vulnerable. Leaders use reputation to intimidate and win. A prudent leader makes his reputation unassailable and is ever alert to potential attacks, thwarting them before they happen. He learns to destroy his enemies by opening holes in their own reputation. In so doing, he stands aside and let public opinion hang them.[6]


A Rotarian leader is honourable if he is faithful to the 4-Way Test- Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? The test is set against the objective of the club aptly captured by its motto “Service above Self” and an earlier motto- “One profits most who serves best”. The chief of objectives of Rotary Club is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as the basis of worthy enterprise and in particular to encourage and foster the development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service.


If leaders are ethically obliged to render those services which they swear to do, a Rotarian leader has to be socially accountable to the club through dedicated service.  This demands honor and integrity due to one’s office; truthfulness which respects truth in whatever form and promotes efficiency and friendship; and fidelity by which one remains true to profession and oath of allegiance in office.


To work with honour is to work with respect for office, self, and others. It speaks of fidelity to demands of office, personal conviction and public morality.

  1. Personal Integrity: The greatest weapon of leader is personal integrity. A leader is called an ‘honourable’ because he ought to be impeccable in behaviour, integral and of good repute. A leader without reputation is vulnerable. Intelligent leader uses reputation to intimidate and win because he who goes to equity must go with clean hands.

A Rotarian leader must not seek recognition of pretended virtues which he does not really have. Unmerited respect ought to be a sense of shame rather than joy. Leaders should admit and seriously examine criticisms and seek a sincere dialogue with comrades. He ought to avail himself of contributions his subjects can make to the common welfare and must be heedful not to stifle personal initiative but on the contrary promote it as source of enrichment and fruitfulness.

  1. Office Integrity: Respect to one’s office means social accountability. It means dutifulness, responsibility, service, justice, dialogue, tolerance, team spirit, and courtesy. A leader should be socially accountable. Public thing should serve public interest only. Public money is a public deity; it should not be privatized. To be office accountable is to be selfless.

A leader should exercise his authority in the spirit of service and love. “Whoever would be great among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve” (Mk 10: 43-45; Lk 22: 22-25). At the Last Supper, Christ in washing the feet of his disciples linked leadership to service. If then, he the Lord and teacher, has washed their feet, leaders should follow his example and do the same (Jn 13: 1-17).

Office service demands discipline even in the face of difficult or provocation. Discipline is a mental self-control used in directing or changing behaviour, learning something, or training for something.[7] A leader should be firm but not rigid. “Not to give due authoritative directives would be to hinder or waste the potentialities of the subjects.”[8] He should not be a lone ranger or unnecessarily strict, harsh and unapproachable but be responsible and free.[9] Authoritarian use of power can provoke refusal, embitterment, occult compensation and rebellion. Rules and regulations should not be multiplied to become numerous and complex. For Thomas Aquinas says: “If the superior issues or enjoins so many ordinances that the subject cannot comply with them, he (the subject) is excused from sin.”[10]



Selfless leaders are made not born. If you have the desire and will power, you can become an effective leader. What it takes is to be excellence. And honour is not given; it is earned through hard work of service and sincerity. A Rotarian is a man of good name. The Holy Writ insists that one’s good name is a high good, among the temporal goods, the highest. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (Prov 22: 1). “Have regard for your name since it will remain for you longer than a thousand great store of gold” (Sir 41:12). Elsewhere, we are admonished, “brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4: 8).

Rotary Clubs Presidential Meeting, Eagles Royal Hotel, Abakaliki

[1] Okey Ndibe, Opt. Cit.

[2] Charles Moore, Witness to the Truth, in ‘First Things: The Moral, Social and religious Challenges of the Day (New York: Burns & Oates, 2005) p. 9

[3] Charles Moore, Witness to the Truth, in ‘First Things: The Moral, Social and religious Challenges of the Day (New York: Burns & Oates, 2005) p. 15

[4] Charles Moore, Witness to the Truth, in ‘First Things: The Moral, Social and religious Challenges of the Day (New York: Burns & Oates, 2005) pp. 16-18

[5] Richard Foster, Money, Sex and Power (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), p. 1.

[6] Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power (New York: Penguin Books, 2000) p. 37

[7] Microsoft® Encarta® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[8] Waldemar Molinski, “Authority,” Sacramentum Mundi I, 1968, 132ff

[9] Gaudium et Spes no. 74

[10] Aquinas T, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 105, a. 1 and 3