Redefining Leadership in Africa – Applying relevant Leadership theories to youth development

In an age of increasing technological innovation and uncertainty, it is important now more than ever to reshape our definitions of what leadership is and how we want to pass the baton onto the leaders of tomorrow. The key to this may lie in finding the most effective way to bridge the gap between old models of leadership success, and the modern-day shift in culture and human behaviours. The youth of today must adapt innovative technologies to the successful leadership models of past generations and vice versa. Leaders need to step up to a new role—one that is adaptive, agile and can accelerate development in Africa.

Stuart Crainer defined leadership as “a veritable minefield of misunderstanding and difference, through which theorists and practitioners must tread wearily”. Central to reshaping definitions of leadership in Africa is figuring out what type of leader would be effective and what it is that they possess that makes them leaders. Is it their skills, styles or traits? Skills focus on what they do and this refers to their cognitive, interactive, and physical skills. Traits represent more of a predisposition to behave in a certain way. Styles focus more on task-oriented or relationship-oriented behaviours. When this is figured out, the process of mentoring these leaders can begin.

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Transformational leadership theory can be applied to the development of the next generation of African leaders. It is linked to psychological fulfilment and tends to move followers up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and can be applied to all followers across Africa, resulting in a better standard of human capital. Four effective components of transformational leadership are: Idealised Influence, Intellectual Stimulation, Inspirational Motivation and Individualised Consideration.

A leader that applies idealised influence takes up post as a role model that can identify with certain values of employees, influencing them positively. Intellectual Stimulation promotes followers’ efforts to be innovative and creative by questioning assumptions about their working environment. Inspirational Motivation sets an inspiring vision, clearly communicating expectations that followers want to meet. Lastly, Individualised Consideration attends to the followers’ individual needs and their individual differences are recognised.

Before the relevant theories can be applied by the next generation of African leaders, they will need to understand the challenges being faced in Africa presently: The influence of political leaders, intellectual leaders, and business leaders. With the successful battles for independence came great power and the leaders of that generation failed in their mission to provide sustainable growth in Africa. Now the responsibility of the next generation will be based on the relationship between power and freedom, in particular the freedom of Africa’s citizens. An article from Graduate Institute Geneva highlights these three questions for the next generation of leaders (

  •  “What will the configuration and nature of the different political, religious, economic and intellectual powers be on local, national, regional, continental and global levels?”
  •  “What possibility will there be for citizens to control these powers and ensure their balance so as to defend the fundamental rights of African people to life, education and health, indeed to spiritual and material happiness in dignity?”
  •  “What will Africa’s place be in today’s interdependent world?” .

The answers to these questions may take generations to answer, but hopefully that begins with the next generation of African leaders. There is a great urgency to resolve this, but how do we rapidly upskill our youth?

1.  Stuart Crainer, in Laurie J. Mullins, Management and Organisational Behaviour (

2. John O. Igué, A New Generation of Leaders in Africa: What Issues Do They Face? (