Leadership: Dichotomy of poverty and progress

In the past five years, a raging debate has been going on especially on county leadership. People are searching for answers to many questions that can be grouped into four thematic areas of leadership: Trait - type of person that makes a good leader; Behavioral – things that good leaders do; Contingency - if situations influence good leadership; and Power and Influence - sources of the leader’s power.

I examine these thematic areas on the basis of their potential to enhance progress or encourage poverty.

This examination is critically important considering the fact that county leadership is under siege from Members of the County Assemblies (MCAs).

It is an open secret that virtually all governors are bribing MCAs to maintain peace. When history is written on county administration, it will emerge that Prof. Kivutha Kibwana, Makueni Governor, is perhaps the only leader who had good intentions on public expenditure but paid the ultimate price of dissolving the county.

The decisions made by Prof. Kibwana place him under the classification of contingency where the situation in Makueni influenced him to make a good decision and hence good leadership. Such leaders look for a more effective way to lead rather than succumb to blackmail.


They tend to be more people oriented rather than task oriented. Research shows that contingency-based leadership succeeds in a situation where individual members of the leader’s team have attained maturity in leadership (issues are examined on the basis of their merit).

Governor Kibwana wanted his team to understand that public resources must be used to alleviate poverty rather than feeding their egos and retard progress.

Governors who spend public resources to satisfy the MCAs’ appetite for money in most cases fall within the power and influence theme. In this category there are two sub themes, that is, transformational and transactional leadership.

These two concepts were introduced by James Burns in 1978 as he examined political leadership.

Other researchers mainly Conger and Kanungo in 1998 noted, to Burns the difference between transformational and transactional leadership is in terms of what leaders and followers offer one another.

Transformational leaders offer a purpose that transcends short-term goals and focuses on higher order intrinsic needs. Transactional leaders, in contrast, focus on the proper exchange of resources.

If transformational leadership results in followers identifying with the needs of the leader, the transactional leader gives followers something they want in exchange for something the leader wants.

It is evident therefore that most county leaders fall in the category of transactional leadership where short term gains, mostly money, is used in exchange for power. This type of leadership never leads to progress. It actually precipitates poverty.

In Vision 2030, we envisaged transformational leadership to lead us into progress. The Political Pillar’s objective is moving to the future as one nation and envisions a democratic system that is issue based, people centred, results oriented and is accountable to the public.

The pillar is anchored on transformation of Kenya’s political governance across five strategic areas: The rule of law – the Kenya Constitution 2010; Electoral and political processes; democracy and public service delivery; transparency and accountability; security, peace building and conflict management.

The desire of every Kenyan is to have a transformational leader. We have it in writing but how do we actualise a leadership style where the leader is charged with recognizing the needed change, building a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and delivering the change in tandem with committed citizens?

Will Prof. Kibwana’s actions inspire us to raise our interest in explaining to the grassroots on the demerits of short term gains versus long term issues that will eventually take our people out of poverty?

Many other counties are held back by other forms of leadership such as trait and behaviour. In trait theme, we assume that leadership is an innate, instinctive quality that you do or don’t have.

Many African communities are still stuck in this thinking even though it has been proven that leadership qualities can be developed and that leadership is never an inheritance from past great leaders.

Behavioural form of leadership is where leaders dictate what needs to be done and expect cooperation or involve their teams in decision-making to encourage acceptance and support.

Sub themes under behavioral include: Autocratic, democratic and Laissez-faire leaders. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

As we approach 2017, it is our collective responsibility to seek progress and defeat poverty.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s Business School.