Growing up as a first born, I was always responsible for my sibling’s well being. I would give a few orders here and there, which would be dutifully followed, perhaps for fear of my dad. My granddad too placed me in charge of all his goats, sheep, and cows. I would decide who would take care of what and when, and for fear of him as well everyone would dance to the tunes. In school I had some small position of responsibility where I could get a few things done and again everything would happen with very little objection.
Then I got into the job market where again I ended up being in a position of authority working with a team directly under my supervision and I had no headache. My instructions were well followed and my seniors would marvel at how I was leading.
What was lost, even to me, was that in all the above situations the followers in the all the cases feared losing or running into a situation that would definitely be unpleasant. My siblings and cousins knew too well the consequences of defying my orders because there was indeed a powerful authority behind my words: Dad and Granddad. In school the last thing my fellow students would have wished for was ending up in front of the disciplinary committee and for my team at work, the thought of losing a job would be too much to handle. For the followers, there were very few options, if any.
But this year, in this community that we organize, I have witnessed real leadership. Trust me, leading the community that has very little, if anything to lose, no father, grandfather, disciplinary committee, or a boss to fear and definitely not a job to lose is a whole different story.
I am, on daily basis, learning the huge difference between managing and leading. Investing in people who can actually wake up in the morning and drop a call just to say, “by the way I am gone,” or worse still just disappear into the thin air, I have learned to stretch my hands to slow walkers with the hope that some day they will walk with my pace and willingly knock on a door and have it slammed in their face, but show up again the following day and gently knock again hoping that this time around things will be different.
I can confidently say that weather 1,200 children commit to going to school consistently or not I have indeed had a taste of what it feels like to really lead in a real world.
Cheers to all leaders I salute you. You are incredible!
-Jacob Okumu, Tatua Community Organizer