Leadership. So often spoken about, so rarely exemplified. This is especially true regarding effective Black sociopolitical leadership.
The jury of Black historical experience has deliberated for decades, and the verdict is in: Both our local communities and larger national landscape are witnessing a void in effective leadership.
This doesn’t imply that we have NO competent or sincere individuals pushing agendas, advocating for people, challenging injustice or implementing solutions to our problems. Any brother or sister living in any U.S. city can produce a list of such people with respect to their own locality.
And yet, we cannot allow idealism or a tendency toward brown sugar-coating to obscure this sobering reality: all across this country, the masses of Black folk emphatically decry an absence of effective leadership on their behalf.
Even if no one verbalized this sentiment, it is self-evident. In virtually every indicator of human empowerment (educational attainment, gainful employment, job stability, mortality, mental and physical health, social mobility, household composition, political representation, property acquisition, business ownership, creation of viable independent institutions, personal safety, disposable income, savings and assets, freedom from incarceration, life choices, etc.) Black people rate very poorly, and in most cases, worse than everyone other group in the U.S.
Our enemies have been and likely will always be present; We’ve always worked with more financial, academic and other disadvantages than those oppressing us. These realities are not new. But what is disturbing today, is our collective inability or unwillingness to effectively identify our challenges, those responsible and our ability to fashion our righteous indignation into effective campaigns to address/resolve our conflicts.
In an effort to inspire and inform those of us who aspire to lead, advocate or organize our people, I’ve identified 11 qualities of effective leaders. Please note that numbering does not imply a ranking system of these qualities. Also remember that no leader is perfect, but with hard work and perseverance, he or she can be excellent. Lastly, I am not perfect, nor is this list. What follows are basic qualities I’ve identified. This list is not exhaustive by any means :
1. Courage: An effective leader must be courageous enough to say and confront the pivotal issues and people necessary without catering to his/her fear of reprisal from opposition or backlash. In addition, they should feel righteous indignation about injustice and oppression.
2. Confidence: A leader must truly have faith in his/her ability, vision and decision-making. This confidence should not be hollow or pretentious, but created from excellent preparation and actual past achievements/victories.
3. Strategic/Analytical Thinking: We cannot make decisions or respond to policies or tactics of our opposition impulsively. Nor can decisions stem subjective emotions. A good leader exercises good judgement by being accurately informed, patient, and discerning, and by being aware of and taking into account, important considerations. Since this is nearly impossible to accomplish individually, effective leaders establish relationships with mentors whom they consult with important matters. Leaders are not simply concerned with what, but why and how. They seek to truly understand things and come up with effective solutions.
4. Action-oriented: Leaders often develop theories and take time to educate and raise consciousness among the people for whom they adovacate. But they don’t stop there. Effective leaders want to help solve problems. Therefore effective leaders create organizations, movements, books, institutions, challenge and/or write public policy, etc. Such individuals can identify the issues, explain the people responsible, then help develop and implement outlines or methods for resolving those problems.
5. Humility: This quality does not mean that a person is soft-spoken or introverted (necessarily). It describes a person who has an accurate (not inflated or deflated) sense of themselves and his/her abilities/shortcomings and who constantly seeks to learn, improve and increase his or her effectiveness. Humble people apologize when necessary and assume they have room to learn and grow. Genuine leaders are not driven by being popular, becoming wealthy, getting favors or attracting fame and recognition. A real leader wants justice, empowerment, and progress for THE PEOPLE they represent. Rather than attempting to do everything, they solicit input from others and they encourage such input, rather than acting in a unilateral fashion. The best leaders actually groom new leaders.
6. Inspiring: Effective leaders motivate others to see potential in themselves they didn’t formerly recognize. By displaying their own confidence, conviction, and discipline, effective leaders push people to become active agents of self and collective empowerment. They motivate those around them to evolve, leave their comfort zones, and even become leaders themselves. One way they achieve this is by being genuinely passionate about their ideals, the people for whom they advocate and the issues they address.
7. Hardworking/Thorough: Realizing that they set the tone for everyone in the group, effective leaders demand more of themselves than anyone else. They spend time researching, reading, holding meetings, recruiting members, educating their members and preparing themselves to render EXCELLENT service. There is a reason Dr. King was so eloquent, Garvey attracted so many followers, and Malcolm was so good at raising people’s consciousness, and articulating liberation theory. These individuals didn’t simply rely on natural ability. They honed and refined their skill sets, and put hours of study, networking, and practice into their leadership. No effective leader relies on shortcuts, easy solutions, or get-free-quick schemes.
8. Articulate: Effective leaders adequately communicate his/her vision accurately, clearly, and in a way that inspires and educates those listening. He or she can also effectively explain the issue at hand, the opposition, and how people are negatively impacted. One need not be the world’s greatest orator to be articulate. Also, they should strive to be effective writers in addition to speakers.
9. Decisive: Effective leaders are discerning and strategic but also willing and able to make important decisions in a timely manner without constantly changing their minds. Related to this quality is a commitment to being a change agent. Leaders want to improve conditions, raise morale, and resolve conflicts….and they understand that such things need to happen in a particular time-frame.
10. Visionary: Effective leaders have a clear and specific vision of the outcomes they want, and the culture they want to create. This vision includes short-terms intended outcomes in addition to the long-term legacy they want to leave long after they are no longer in leadership. Because they are grounded, the decisions and associations they make and issues they address have a level of consistency. Effective leaders do not flip-flop or address every issue under the sun. They do, say and promote the things that lead toward their vision being realized. They have the discipline to stay focused and true to their vision and they do not allow opposition forces or dissidents to deter them in these efforts.
11. Knowledgeable: Effective leaders make it their business to know the history of their organization, along with the people and issues for which they advocate. They take the time to know what their members care about, where they hang out, and what skills or interests they have. They ask questions and involve themselves in the lives of the people they represent. As a result, they tend to also be familiar with the community in which they live and have relationships with other leaders and organizations.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.”
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.