“As a tree is hid in a seed so your future as a leader is not a head of you, it is within you”, said one writer.

King Solomon said your gift or talent makes room for you in this world and brings you into the presence of the great.  “A gift opens the way for the giver and usher him into the presence of the great” (Proverbs 18:16).

From examining and reading about the great men, I have discovered that leadership potential was inherent in them.  This tends to give force and validity for the above statements. Bill gates quit college to start his venture that eventually became Microsoft because he discovered his talent or gift. Steve Jobs co-founder of Apple computers, quit college after only a semester because he also discovered his gift.  They discovered the talent or gift they could serve to the world.  They developed products the world needed and they became rich and famous.

Apple Corporation which was founded by Steve Jobs as stated earlier is worth 362.4 billion dollars, bigger than any African economy.  Africa’s biggest economy is South Africa at 265 billion dollars.  Kenya’s economy is worth about 44 billion dollars. Steve Jobs was able to achieve this because he became his own follower.  He believed he had the capacity and he put in the hours.

In other words, I am saying that everyone who thinks he or she is merely a follower is really a leader trapped in the mind-set of a follower. You do not know who you are. Your enemies may not know who you are either, but they suddenly want to be your friend when you discover your leadership.  They do not know you because you do not know yourself. Your employer pays you a modest salary and gives you a little title and you are proud of that.  What a tragedy! You are worth more to the world than anyone could even pay you.  You are carrying something that your generation needs.  What holds you back are your false beliefs about yourself.

“No one lives beyond the limits of his/her belief system”, says John Mainz. No wonder majority of us Kenyans believe we were born followers and leadership is for the elite few given by providence. How can you explain people with cracks in their wall of character having thousands of followers?  I tend to believe that majority of us think we are born followers.  Our political system in Kenya and our government reinforce the idea that a few people will lead and others will follow. The form of government implies that leadership is reserved for a few, so many able Kenyans do not even aspire to be leaders.  The few who declare their intentions to lead are dismissed by ‘career followers’.

Even our education produces followers. Most people learn to become employees, not business owners or entrepreneurs.  Our schools teach students to get jobs and work for someone else.  Students learn to be good employees.  Even parents tell children to get education so that they can get jobs.  Most parents encourage this without realizing that they are handicapping their children’s potential.  The whole system is set up this way, whether intentionally or by default.

The culture destroys the real you and produces the ‘you’ that the power structure wants.  This is why schools have a curriculum.  A curriculum is a system to produce a product that is pre-determined.  The educational system can pre-determine and predict what kind of a person the system will produce if that person submits to the system.

One day I received a list of textbooks from a school where one of my children learns.  The school expected each parent to buy a specific book of a specific writer. When I went to one bookshop, I was impressed by the content of a certain writer who was different from the one the school had recommended.  I purchased the book and reaching school and upon presentation of the same, the school administration refused.  Since then I realized that the system requires that all students study the same writers, the same version of history, and the same philosophers and so on so that they can produce more teachers just like them.

I am saying that we do not need to teach kids how to dream.  Parents can destroy purpose if they try to make their children solve their failures. “why do you want to study that?” there is no money in that,” a mother may say.  If your parents tell you that, tell them you are in the business of following yourself.

If your child has a passion for music; buy him keyboard or piano. If your child has a passion for painting, buy her some brushes and paint. Leave him/her alone.  He/she came to this world with his/her own assignment.  Allow them to follow themselves.

The first persons to kill the dream of children are the parents. They like to tell them what to choose for their career.  They like to tell them, “be like your brother or sister and go and get a real job. Why do you want to be different? What is your problem? Why can’t you get a job like your brother and your sister?

In this article, I wish to urge all, young or old, students or not, leaders of all shed to understand that before you lead others, you must follow yourself first.  Following yourself, means utilizing your talents for the benefits of humanity. To be able to follow yourself effectively, you must lead yourself.  To be able to lead yourself effectively, you may need to embrace some specific disciplines.

The specific disciplines are the formulations of the timeless wisdom that can bring personal mastery to your life, best practiced for human excellence and inner leadership. Some of these are as stated in the forward paragraphs.

First you need to practice the discipline of personal renewal. This discipline is about sabbatical rest.  It is not really the stress that diminishes your effectiveness and leaves you feeling utterly exhausted at the end of the day, but it is your failure to gain some relief from the inevitable stress.  Abe Lincoln once said “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I will spend six hours to sharpen my axe”.

Second, you need the discipline of abundant knowledge.  You realize that the quest for knowledge, insight and wisdom is part and parcel of life of the one who wants to follow himself and consequently become great.  Great leaders realize that as the circle of knowledge grows, so also does the boundary of ignorance. By reading the great works of philosophy and consistently exposing, our mind to the great thinkers you will come to understand the ageless laws of nature and humanity.

Third, you need to embrace the discipline of physicality.  The timeless truth says, ‘as you care for your body, so you care for your mind. One simple way you can embrace the discipline of physicality is by walking.  When Charles Dickens suffered from a writer’s block, he would walk through the streets of London late at night hoping to rekindle his fire. Day after day he would stroll and study the sights.  During his outings, he observed many children working for little or no pay, a circumstances that deeply troubled him.  His desire to shed light on this problem sparked his creativity, leading him to write his most famous work, Christmas Carol.

Fourth, you need the discipline of early awakening.  Getting up early is a common practice that runs through the lives of history’s greatest leaders. Thomas Edison, whose industries work habits allowed him to record over 1093 inventions in his lifetime, said that sleep is like a drug.  Take too much at a time makes you dopey.  ‘Ben Franklin believed that there would be more than enough time to sleep when we were in our graves’. The problem is that most people sleep more than they need. They have developed a habit of oversleeping and then claim that their bodies can’t do without it.  The real reason is that they wouldn’t know what to do with their time if they did wake up early.  They lack passionate purpose that fuels and energize their lives. In other words they lack the spark that lights the fire of knowledge and fuels the engine of accomplishment. They lack motivation that can maximize and maintain momentum for the day.

Fifth, avoid death bed mentality. Great leaders focused on their dreams and did not let anything or anybody distract them.  Similarly you should stop spending so much time thinking about the success of others and start focusing on your own vision for the future.  Do not procrastinate. Procrastinators are good at talking, not doing.  Mark Twain once said; “Noise produces nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as though she has laid a steroid”.

Therefore, it needs to come to the realization of all that true leadership is not a product of a course of study but a course in self-discovery. Discover and follow yourself before you get followed.  Discover your inner potential before you expire.  Norman Cousins once noted that, “The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside of us while we live”. In a similar vein, Ashley Montagu wrote that, “The deepest personal defeat suffered by human beings is constituted by the difference between what one was capable of becoming and what one has in fact become”. If you are passionate in bridging this difference, be your own follower.


Joseph Nyanchama is a motivational speaker on transformational and servant leadership