Rethinking Leadership: Connecting Leadership And Place

Jesudamilare ‘JD’ Adesegun-David is a co-founder of Ennovate Lab and Executive Director of Qeola. He works with corporates, universities and governments to build innovation ecosystems in underserved regions in Africa and helps founders build impactful startups. 

 

Leadership is a concept that is both well-known and elusive. It is like an iceberg with hidden parts that need deep diving to get at. If a subject could be mastered based on the amount of information available on it, leadership would be at the top of the list. However, that’s not the reality.  

The truth is that we have countless leaders in different fields giving of their best daily, yet the overall impact on our communities, nations and continent still seems to fall so far short of what’s possible.  

The question then is, “Are we missing something important about leadership?”  

I hope to unpack some insights I have gained through practical leadership experience as well as my study of the Scriptures and contemporary examples. My particular focus at this time is on transformational leadership in the 21st century and among an emerging generation of faith-driven business leaders.

Two things seem to be responsible for the increasing ineffectiveness of leadership we see across Africa.  

  1. Globalisation 
  2. The advent of social media 

 

Globalisation 

Globalisation is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it has given us a flat world where we can see what’s happening on the other end of the world and participate in it. I can eat what Mexicans and Americans eat, and I can conduct business with a single mouse click.

On the other hand, it has created an identity crisis. A wave of rootlessness is sweeping the world because we are a patchwork of diverse interests, inclinations, cultures and quirks. This has led to dwindling patriotism, whimsical emigration, bubble living etc. The challenge is that in such a world, people in Nigeria, South Africa, or Kenya can be so emotionally invested in what is happening in the USA, UK or Singapore, but not bat an eyelid when the same things happen in their communities and nations.  

This has robbed us of the kind of transformational leadership Africa needs because it is difficult to find people who care as much about what’s happening around them as what’s happening in far-off, so-called “influential” lands.  

Globalisation has altered nearly every facet of human life, including activity, conduct and a sense of nationalism, particularly among the Millennial group. Because globalisation keeps progressing, it naturally diminishes one’s sense of love and pride for one’s nation and culture, and takes away one’s sense of belonging. (Naura and Pandin, 2021)     

 

The Advent of Social Media  

The advent of social media has allowed leadership to be minted, developed and exercised entirely on the Internet. This is both fortunate and unfortunate. It is fortunate because no one can stop you in your pursuit of relevance and influence. Also, the range of your influence is almost limitless. From the corner of a dorm room in Benin City, Nigeria, a young man can exercise such a great influence on folks in far-flung areas just by the words he writes on the Internet, all while battling with the uncertainty of what to eat, wear or even where to sleep the next day. The buffer of spatial distance allows this to be so. And in a significant way, it is fortunate.  

However, it is unfortunate because true leadership requires a mix of other factors that set it apart as noble. Authenticity, vulnerability and credibility are some of these traits. And these can easily be compromised in a virtual world of “good news only” posts and edited pictures that blur out acne and scars.  

 

Leadership Tied to Place 

What kind of leadership, then, is needed in a globalised and digital age that transcends the challenges highlighted above while affecting lasting change like we have read about in the lives of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Abraham Kuyper?   

What is interesting to note about these men is that even though they fought for universally applicable values and noble goals, their leadership was firmly anchored to a place, namely the United States of America, South Africa, and the Netherlands respectively. The place was integral to their vision and it added impetus to their cause. 

Scripture paints a more vivid picture for us. 

O LORD, remember David and all the hardships he endured. Remember how he swore an oath to the LORD and made this vow to the Mighty One of Jacob: “I will not step inside my house, get into my bed, shut my eyes, or close my eyelids until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Psalm 132:1-5) 

David was caught with a vision to see God’s kingdom come in his day. For him, it meant taking the city of Jerusalem and setting up the tabernacle right in the city centre. It is interesting to note that Saul had been king for 40 years but never tried to take the city of the Jebusites. Long before Saul and David were born, Moses, the man of God, had spoken prophetically of God’s intention to administer His government from a specific place within the Promised Land.  

You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, In the place, O LORD, which You have made For Your own dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established. (Exodus 15:17, NKJV). And this intention of God was further attested to by the Psalmist. For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place. (Psalm 132:13) 

David’s commitment to Jerusalem was not so much about it being his kingly headquarters. Rather, it was God’s commitment to the place that fanned the flames of his vision to establish God’s will there. Seeing the fulfilment of this vision was like fire in his bones and his entire life was bent towards it. 

David’s life offers us insight into what could prove to be a game-changer in our manifestation of leadership. And it is this: God desires a breed of leaders whose hearts are inflamed with a vision to see Him get His rightful place in every geographical location across the earth. This means that the new frontier of leadership is the kind that is missional about place. 

 

Heart and Shoulders: Being Missional about Place 

There is no better analogy to describe the spiritual side of this commitment of leadership to place than we see in the responsibility God gave to Aaron as Israel’s high priest. 

Then you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel… And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders as a memorial… You shall make the breastplate of judgment… And you shall put settings of stones in it… And the stones shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, each one with its own name; they shall be according to the twelve tribes… So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the Lord continually. (Exodus 28:9, 12, 15, 17, 21, 29; NKJV) 

To be missional about a place is to be able to bear a specific town/city/nation/region on your heart consistently before the Lord in intercessory prayer just as Aaron did. It is to be committed to seeing God’s will find expression there. It should be that while you are leading a business in that place, the overarching vision for you is to see your business as a vehicle for the advancing of the cause of Christ there.  

This approach to leadership ensures that we make a real, tangible impact on the landscape of the places that God has called us to establish our businesses in. Our host communities suddenly become branded upon our hearts in a compassionate yearning for their transformation while we shoulder the responsibility of that transformation. 

Oh to be captured with this grand vision of David-Aaron-type leaders whose lives will reveal a new kind of leadership that indeed inspires and charts new courses for others to follow! 

“A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” 

Without a doubt, the faith-driven business movement must be anchored to place. Often, visions for transformation will remain vague and lack intensity when a strong sense of place is missing from the equation.  

For instance, there are 774 Local Government Areas (LGA) in Nigeria. Imagine that 12 local, visionary David-Aaron-type folks decide to invest their lives, skills, and resources in leading change in each LGA over an extended period, like 20 or 30 years. I can bet that lasting, transgenerational change would spring forth from every one of those LGAs.   

Eugene B. Peterson and Margaret Mead have powerful words that capture what I’m trying to describe.  Margaret Mead wisely noted, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And Peterson wrote a book titled ‘A Long Obedience in the Same Direction’. This phrase has never left me. It has hooked me like a barb in my heart and won’t let me go! It speaks of running with a vision with a single-minded focus and without becoming despondent. It speaks of the sort of sacrificial commitment David made to seeing Jerusalem become the centre of God’s purposes in his time.  

Leadership that seeks to bring transformation to the world needs to be anchored to a place. No matter what form of leadership you exercise, whether business leadership as a founder or executive, family leadership as father or mother, or spiritual leadership in the church or outside of it, one must reckon with place.  

 

Metaphor Of Place as a Garden  

A garden is a product of careful cultivation. Cultivation requires commitment and laser focus.  

“A garden requires patient labour and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfil good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them,” says Liberty Hyde Bailey.  

We must fight off the growing influence of globalisation and the advent of social media in leading change in our communities. We must allow ourselves to see our communities as gardens entrusted to our care.  

Isaiah 32:15 tells us, “The wilderness shall become a fruitful field and the fruitful field shall be counted for a forest.”  

The story of Jadav Payeng of Majuli paints a vivid picture of what it means to commit to a place over an extended period, and how seeing place as a garden to be cultivated is a powerful mental picture to frame our vision for leadership in our communities.   

Jadav was 16 when he observed that his local community had gradually morphed into a desert. He had previously worked with a plant scientist who had told him about the wonders of tree planting. So, when he saw the danger his community was in, he knew what to do. And from 1979 to date, he has planted trees in his community daily. The wilderness has become a forest and today covers more than 1500 acres.   

Jadav started seeding a specific place 40 years ago, quite literally. And with an unwavering commitment to that place, a self-sustaining ecosystem emerged over the years. Wildlife and migratory birds have made it home. It now serves as a carbon sink. Gully erosion has become a thing of the past.  

Imagine that there were 12 people like Jadav in that region doing the same thing. The forest would have emerged far earlier than it did, with a greater diversity of trees and also a far more enchanting tapestry of beauty.  

This brings to mind what it meant for missionaries to commit their lives to missions among certain tribes and in certain geographical locations. Their dedication to consistent labour among the people they were sent to made a significant difference in the quality of their outcomes.  

The stories of David Brainerd (missionary to the native American Indians), John “Praying” Hyde (missionary to India and a great intercessor), C. T. Studd (missionary to Congo), Hudson Taylor (missionary to China) and many more challenge us to greater commitment to place. God used them mightily in their day, and He wants to do the same in ours. While this call isn’t particularly about overt evangelism, it is no less spiritual and important to God. It is a call to partner with God over His plans on earth.  

 

From Jerusalem…  

The Scriptures see the commitment to place as a key factor in being a witness to Christ. “Ye shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) First, Jerusalem. A place where the soles of your feet can tread. A place where you live, breathe, eat, and sleep the vision amongst real people.  

For me, Ogbomoso is that Jerusalem. Ogbomoso is an underserved community where I have decided to flesh out the practicality of the vision of transformation I have seen for Nigeria and Africa. I am glad to have found an increasing number of other thoughtful, committed citizens in Ogbomoso both among the amazing team that works with me at my company, Ennovate Lab, and among other business leaders in the community.  

Though based in America, John and Ash Marsh of Marsh Collective have captured my imagination with their work at Opelika. I have read their stories and watched their videos with joyful optimism, realising that the sort of transformation they’ve seen in an almost wasteland-like Opelika is something we can see replicated in communities across Africa. From Opelika, they have gone on to transform 11 other small towns in America.   

I believe God is calling more business leaders to turn their gazes to the white and ready harvest in the specific towns and cities He has placed them in. In the past five years of serving our community through business, we have seen souls saved, lives transformed and the community enriched by our demonstration of the good news through the products and services we offer. More recently we have begun to live with a growing awareness that we are approaching critical mass with our work and a city-wide transformation is about to break out. Indeed, there is no greater joy to be had than knowing that we and Jesus are about to have such an indelible impact on our host community, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Nigeria.  

1 The Importance of a Sense of Nationalism in the Millennial Generation in the Era of Globalisation by Sheila Sabika Amani Naura and Moses Glorino Rumambo Pandin. 

Jesudamilare Adesegun-David