Nonprofit Organizational Development, Leadership and Responsibility

(A Presentation by Dr. Syrulwa Somah at the UNIBOA Annual Leadership Seminar Held in Arlington, TX, on February 14, 2004)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 23, 2004

I am honored by your invitation to participate in this leadership seminar as a presenter. I have been very busy lately with job and family matters that I almost had a second thought about being here today. But, then, I felt a sudden urge and obligation to be here when I remembered the Bassa proverb, Son dyoa do ni fia gbinnin, which when translated to English means, "A single hand cannot coil a boa constrictor." Of course, every true Bassa knows that a boa constrictor is a very large and long snake. Whenever a hunter kills a boa constrictor, the boa constrictor must first be wreathed before it can be easily carried into town. But a hunter would be unlikely to do that alone. So he will always need more than one hand to coil it. And any hunter would be considered selfish if he attempted to coil the boa constrictor alone. And that is the very reason I am here. I couldn’t resist not participating in this great program you, my fellow Bassa, have put together. For like the boa constrictor hunter, I know you couldn’t coil the kill (this program) alone. You needed all the hands you could get to make the program a success, and here I am to lend my support.


Of course, I need not tell you that the land of our birth or parentage-Liberia-is in a serious mess. Liberians have been fighting among themselves for the last 15 years, and there seems to be no end in sight to the infightings. But generally, Liberia is suffering from a lack of unity, good leadership, and good governance. And these shortcomings are not only limited to politicians and others in Liberia. Even as fortunate as most of us Liberians are to live in peace and quiet in these United States, we have not given much thought to unity, peace, and cooperation amongst ourselves. We are still fighting with each other at every level instead of reconciling our differences and working together for the betterment of ourselves and our brothers and sisters back home in Liberia. We need to rethink how we can unite efforts and work together if our national and community organizations must progress at all.


As a Bassa people, I know we have the capacity to lead. But we cannot be effective leaders unless we are united. In other words, we need to show by our actions and activities the kind of leadership and management qualities we want for our people. And this is the very reason I have chosen to address you on the topic, "Nonprofit Organizational Development, Leadership and Responsibility."  First, I will share with you the kind of leadership styles and organizational structures necessary for a nonprofit organization such as yours, leadership and management styles across all organizations, the Bassa vision of leadership, and my own conclusions on the subject.


What is Leadership?


Leadership means many things to many people. But whatever the essence of leadership, it has always involved a relationship between two groups of peoples categorized by the level of "authority" assigned to, or assumed by each group. Persons with the "authority" to make and influence public policy or community decisions regarding the direction the organization should take or not to take in particular instances are referred to as "leaders," while those persons who adhere to and implement such decisions are generally referred to as "subjects or followers."  But, as you might have noticed, this general definition of "leadership" is inadequate for most human interactions.

For persons who conceive of an idea or policy, or persons who implement certain policy directives for the general community good might not necessarily be doing so in a "leader-follower" relationship.  And rightly so! For life in general is not "black and white." Both leaders and followers have limitations as to how each could exercise the "authority" each has at a given point in time. And for the sake of illustrating why the definition of "leader" and "follower," I gave earlier might be grossly inadequate, we ought to always remember that whoever is leader today, might be the "follower" tomorrow, and whoever is the follower today, might just be the "leader" tomorrow.


And we have many examples of this kind of relationship in each of the communities in which we live. So, in essence, the whole business of leadership would rest on the basic respect we have for each other as members of social clubs, community and national organizations, which mandates a degree of consultation with each other on any major projects and undertakings with potential to affect the entire organization.


How Do Others Perceive Leadership


Perhaps, to further illustrate the point that "leadership" means many things to many people, and that it comes with a lot of limitations in "authority," let’s review some notable quotes about leadership, before we venture in the qualities and types of leadership.















General Leadership Qualities


The hallmark of leadership at any level, and in any part of the world, is TRUST. You are unlikely to succeed as a "leader" if the people you claimed to lead do not "trust" you. For this reason, trust is the key ingredient, if not the ultimate quality, of leadership in any organization or society. People generally will not choose you or regard you as their leader under normal circumstances unless they believe they can trust you. And I am not talking about persons who assumed the mantle of power and leadership through military conquests, whether by foreign military invasions or domestic civil wars and military coups. For in such cases, the people may look to you as leader not out of trust, but out of fear. And current and past leaderships in Liberia have operated along these lines for so long that many Liberians now think leadership is about power and control and not service to the people.


But I want to tell you that leadership means more than power and control, and self-enrichment. Leadership is about service. Leadership implies a willingness and commitment on our part to effect positive changes in society for the betterment of all. And there are certain qualities and characteristics that all leaders share, which include honesty, care, commitment positive thinking and planning, the ability to inspire others to action in the best interest of the community or the national organization one leads. 


A leader who is seen as honest, committed and caring enhances his or her credibility and integrity by winning the trust of the people.  And the people will gladly and actively participate in whatever programs such a leader proposes. In other words, trust is primary quality of a leader. For we all know that there are people in our respective communities and organizations who  are clearly competent in their professions, and who are personable and dynamic and inspirational speakers, but we dare not put them in leadership positions because they are generally not seen as trustworthy persons.


But if by sheer luck such competent but untrustworthy persons ascended to leadership by whatever means, it is always likely that most people will shy away from the leadership of persons with such character. And this doesn’t mean that the people are not cooperative. They just don’t find the leadership credible and trustworthy to warrant their support and cooperation. For if people are going to ‘follow’ a person’s leadership willingly, the first test of will is always whether or not the person is worthy of their trust. For only insofar as a leader is seen as credible, reliable, and trustworthy that a people will follow his or her advice.


Hence, apart from trust, a good leader must also aspire to these basic qualities and truisms about leadership:






Leadership styles and Tactics


Of course, the definition of leadership defers from society to society in terms of emphasis and scope of authority. For instance, in the Western world, the notion of leadership is tied to a vision wherein someone sits at the head of a table, directing, teaching, and persuading his or her subjects; whereas in traditional African societies, the emphasis is on collective responsibility.  And it now seems likely that this collective responsibility structure of traditional African leadership has now taken root in the developed societies under the name and style, "Distributive leadership," or the sharing of leadership responsibility between two or more individuals.  The Bassa people have practiced "distributive leadership" for centuries, which practice was manifested in shared, dispersed, relational, roving, collective, group-centered, broad-based, participatory, fluid, inclusive, and supportive leadership.


Nonetheless, leadership style is perceived as a consistent pattern of behavior displayed by a leader over time, while a leader who wants to influence others may use leadership tactics. These leadership tactics may be manifested in various forms, including these eight fundamental tactics that a leader may use in any situation to influence those he or she is attempting to lead, regardless of the leader’s background.





·        The Persuasion Tactic: With persuasion, the leader influences others explaining the reasons and convincing others that what the leader wants is the right thing to do. Persuasion can work very well when leading others who have similar or more power in the situation than the leader has. This is especially true when the leader has minimal means of rewards or punishment.        








Leading A Non-Profit Organization


A few months ago, I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Nat Galarea Gbessagee, a fellow Bassa, and Mr. Siahyonkron J. K. Nyanseor, a Kroa (Kru), in establishing a nonprofit organization called the Liberian History, Education, and Development, Inc. or LIHEDE for short. As the three of us are well grounded in our respective areas of professional expertise, we made sure to establish in the LIHEDE constitution and bylaws to the last detail, appropriate checks and balances intended to avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings and misinterpretations down the road. 

For we knew that in any organization, whether nonprofit or for-profit, the two key issues of friction are always "money" and "authority." Because you know, whether out of good intention or not, if as leader you don’t tell other members in the organization what you are doing, and how you are spending the organization’s money, they are likely to accuse you of mismanagement and corruption. And when the "small talks" begin in any organization over money and lack of transparency in leadership, the entire organization is dead unless drastic actions are taken.


But you can save the leader and the organization all the headaches if the goals of the organization are clearly defined, along with a leadership structure that defined the scope of authority and limitation of each officer or member of the organization. Hence, for the sake of illustration, I will now share with you a few excerpts from the LIHEDE constitution and bylaws, which are in no means authoritative or conclusive. For we all know that not the paper but the people who run the organization, and the people must first be willing to implement what is on the paper in order to achieve the goals of the organization.


Setting Organizational Goals: A Look At The LIHEDE’s Preamble



The preamble to the LIHEDE constitution established the general goals of the organization thus: "In recognition and appreciation of the value and power of education in general human growth and development, and realizing that our own aspirations as a people can best be fulfilled by our unflinching commitments to education, peace, unity, justice, and civil and human rights, and being determined to apply these principles and values to the governance of our people and the improvements of our individual talents and abilities, do hereby resolve to establish a  Liberian historical, educational and developmental organization, with the common desires of promoting, researching, discussing, educating, and writing about the true historical perspectives, and cultural, linguistics and development aspirations and progress of people of  Liberia in particular, and the peoples of Africa in general… (The specific objectives, fields of interest, membership and financial support are defined as well, but not necessary for our illustration)."


The next excerpts from the LIHEDE constitution and bylaws are self-explanatory, and speak to a range of issues that may be the basis for maintaining check and balance in the organization’s operations.


Article IX:  Executive Officers


Section 9.6: The Assistant Director for Communications or the Secretary General may act as Executive Director in the absence of the executive director, at either the direct choosing of the executive director or upon secret ballot voting by the executive committee.


Article X: Financial Management


Section 10.1: No executive officers of LIHEDE, including the Executive Director, the Assistant Executive Director for Communications, the Secretary General, or the National Treasurer, nor any officer or representative of LIHEDE, shall have any authority to contract debts for, pledge the credit of, or in any way bind LIHEDE except within prior approved budgets.

Section 10.2: Notwithstanding Section 10.1 above, no such financial commitments shall be made on behalf of the Organization by any executive officers outside prior consultation with and approval of the Executive Committee, even if such pledges are within budgetary allocations.


Section 10.3: All legitimate financial commitments and payments by LIHEDE shall bear the signatures of the Executive Director and the National Treasurer or other authorized personnel as may be designated by the Executive Committee to deputize for the Executive Director or National Treasurer in specific transactions.


Article XIII: Impeachment


Section 13.1: All elected officers of LIHEDE are subject to investigation and impeachment for corruption, mismanagement and misappropriation of the Organization’s financial and related resources, and may be held accountable for restitution if found guilty. Non-elected members are also subject to investigation, dismissal and restitution if found guilty of similar charges.


Article XIV: Amendments


Section 14.1: Amendments to this Constitution may be initiated by petition submitted by at least 50 percent of active members of LIHEDE, or by recommendation of the Board of Directors. Such petition shall be submitted to and approved by the Executive Committee of LIHEDE, and in the aftermath of such approval, the proposed amendments shall be published in LIHEDE’s newsletter, website, or otherwise publicized by direct mailing to the membership with notice that the amendment(s) will go into effect unless ten percent of the membership responded within 30 days to object.


Section 14.2: In the cases of such objections, the proposed amendment shall be mailed with a ballot to all members of LIHEDE with a date certain in at least a 30-day period for the ballots to be returned. The amendments may be effected or rejected if at least two-thirds of the ballots legally cast showed an outcome one way or the other.


Article XV: Bylaws


Section 6: The term of office of elected officers shall be three year, commencing in January of each election year. The Executive Director and other elected officers may be re-elected to a second term of three years, but not three consecutive terms. A former executive officer may seek election to the same or comparable executive position within one year after stepping down at the end of a two-term service to the Organization, but may serve only one new term.


Section 17: - Operations: The operations of each Committee of LIHEDE shall be implemented in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedures of LIHEDE, which shall be prepared by the Publication Committee, in consultation with heads of every committee or administrative unit of LIHEDE..


Section 20: Dues and Membership: Only regular due paying members may hold elected offices in LIHEDE, and failure to pay due may trickle automatic revocation of an individual’s membership by the Executive Committee, and dismissal from any office in LIHEDE.


Section 21: Any due paying members may recommend persons as defined under the Article VI, 6.2 of the Constitution, for consideration of honorary and affiliate membership in LIHEDE, subject to approval by the Executive Committee.


Section 23: The Constitution and Bylaws Committee shall also draw up the impeachment procedures for LIHEDE, which will ensure the transparency and fairness of the process. Impeachment guidelines must be formulated within the first year of operation of the Organization, subject to the approval of the Executive Committee. The Board of Directors may suspend the Executive Director pending preparation of the impeachment procedures, if not done within the first year of operation. 


What the LIHEDE constitution and bylaws sought to avoid?


As you have seen, the constitution and bylaws under review sought to identify and provide solution to potential problems that may confront the organization down the road, by answering the four basic questions below, which are the sources of potential conflicts in most organizations:






Again, while the excerpts provided are detailed in certain respects, they can never be substituted for good leadership. For the constitution and bylaws will be only as good as the leader and members of the organization.  Because if good constitution and bylaws alone could define a good organization or government, then Liberia shouldn’t have had any problems. But as we have learned from the current and past conflicts in Liberia, a good constitution is not worth the paper it is written on if the people are not sincere, trustworthy and truthful to themselves.


You must also know that of all the organizations in the world, a nonprofit organization is very hard to run. You are limited in your funding and operational activities, and most of the time you have to rely on volunteers for most of your work. And this is why good leadership is very essential in the running of a nonprofit organization, if not for all other organizations. The leader of a nonprofit organization has to be goal-oriented and persuasive in order to motive others in the organization to participate and contribute to the maximum. And for these and other reasons, I shall now discuss the various leadership traits and methods that are germane to the running of any organization, including a nonprofit organization.


First, as a leader, you would be required to interact with your subordinates, peers, and seniors in the organization, and people outside the organization. And the support of all these groups of people will be important to your success, so you will do well to cultivate good relations with all of them. And to do this, you will have to learn and rely on the following leadership traits and characteristics to succeed:


·        Initiative

·        Tact

·        Courage

·        Integrity

·        Enthusiasm

·        Good Judgment

·        Dependability




Beyond these basic traits, an effective leader must enjoy the trust of the people he governs, and must have a strong vision of the future, in addition to a solid ethical standing in his or her community. For example, the executive research firm, Korn-Ferry International conducted a survey sometime back to ascertain what most people expected of their leaders, and the overwhelming results were the following values:













In addition to these traits and characteristic of a good leadership, a leader has other tools to his or her disposal which, when used wisely, can enhance his or her profile and productivity. But depending on the leader, these very traits can be used to the detriment of the organization. So bear with me as we discuss the various kinds of leadership, and the process of great leadership.


For a start, if you listened to the news you would think that "dictatorship" is not a legitimate leadership style. But it is. Dictatorship is necessary in the absence of consensus about a project or program for which the leader feels strongly. In that case, the leader may select to implement the project, program or policy in the face of stiff opposition, as we saw during the recent Iraqi invasion by the United States, when most of the world opposed the invasion, but the United States felt it was in its strategic interest to forge ahead.  But dictatorship is bad if it becomes the rule and not the exception.

Principles of Leadership














(Source: Donald Clark website)





Factors of leadership



Follower - Different people require different styles of leadership. For example, a new hire requires more supervision than an experienced employee. A person with a poor attitude requires a different approach than one with a high degree of motivation. You must know your people! The fundamental starting point is having a good understanding of human nature: needs, emotions, and motivation. You must know your employees' be, know, and do attributes.


Leader - You must have an honest understanding of who you are, what you know, and what you can do. Also, note that it is the follower, not the leader who determines if a leader is successful. If a follower does not trust or lacks confidence in his or her leader, then he or she will be uninspired. To be successful you have to convince your followers, not yourself or your superiors, that you are worthy of being followed.


Communication - You lead through two-way communication. Much of it is nonverbal. For instance, when you "set the example," that communicates to your people that you would not ask them to perform anything that you would not be willing to do. What and how you communicate either builds or harms the relationship between you and your employees.


Situation - All situations are different. What you do in one leadership situation will not always work in another situation. You must use your judgment to decide the best course of action and the leadership style needed for each situation. For example, you may need to confront an employee for inappropriate behavior, but if the confrontation is too late or too early, too harsh or too weak, then the results may prove ineffective.


Leadership Models


Leadership models are important for us to know and  understand what how leaders act and make decision in situations., Bolman and Deal have suggested four leadership models or leadership frameworks that may help us in our understanding of leadership behaviors. But, like anything in this world, these models are not written in stone. So you need to think long and hard before applying these leadership models to certain situations, or before characterizing your leaders as such. These models are just guides, and when and how each model is effective or ineffective depends on the circumstances under which they may be applied. These models are listed with explanations.






This model suggests that leaders can be put into one of these four categories and there are times when one approach is appropriate and times when it would not be. Any one of these approaches alone would be inadequate. We should be conscious of all four approaches and not just rely on one. For example, during a major organization change, a structural leadership style may be more effective than a visionary leadership style; while during a period when strong growth is needed, the visionary approach may be better. We also need to understand ourselves as each of us tends to have a preferred approach. We need to be conscious of this at all times and be aware of the limitations of our favored approach.



Types of Leadership


Using the Blake and Mouton Managerial Grid, relative to "Concern" for the people we lead, four types of leaders are found, which are also listed and explained below:





The Process of Great Leadership






Elements Of Bassa Model Of Leadership


Like the various leadership styles and traits discussed, the Bassa model of Leadership thrives on uprightness and impeccable character and results-oriented collaborative work involving members of society. The following elements of Bassa leadership explain in a nutshell the expectations and requirements of leadership amongst the Bassa people.


In-depth coverage of Bassa leadership style at the political, judicial and community levels are contained in my book, Nyanyan Gohn Manan: History, Migration & Government of the Bassa. The discussions pertaining to the Bassa leadership model are excerpted from the book.



Bodo Gbam- The Bassa Constitution (Bodo Gbam) is the spine that furnishes the judicial power of the land. The Legislative Branch consists of two Sadah: Zoë Sadah, that which decides cases of members of the Maagba or Gaagba, while palava of the non-members is held in the Kpodouwa Sadah. The Constitution is invested in the Inner Sanctum, the Supreme Court, within which the Xwada, inferior court, from time to time receive and chair those who have worked their way to judicial and legislative functions. While the Constitution has been passed from generation to generation, thereby, becoming a living verse in a human library, the historical lawgiver of the Bassa is Gii-vehneh. The story of the lawgiver is found in the Dyuankadyu, which is similar to that of the literature, except that the Dyuankadyu is oral literature.


It has fiction and non-fiction divisions the same way Western literature has. The fiction of the Dyuankadyu is called Shan-ahn Nohohn, meaning Spider Stories. Those stories are for entertainment and moral teaching. The non-fiction of the Dyuankadyu is called Bodo Soaun Nohohn, meaning ancient stories but true stories that tell of genealogy, wars, politics, mores, the constitution, and law. While these ideas continue to lead the Bassa society, human society always advances so a progression of the Bassa is predicated on the laws and mores, which have changed from time to time to reflect the customs and desires of the people. This is one of the reasons the Bassa live in peace, respecting one another and the laws of the land. Bassa political unit definition goes beyond consciousness of unity and symbiosis and yields to a central authority of Ancestor God that is above the living.


Non-xenophobic or receiving another person as one’s brother permeates every social fabric of Africa. This true humanism would later prove to be a mistake when the White man came. Before the advent of Western civilization, it was forbidden in Bassa Kingdom and some parts of Africa to lock a door of your house. The Bassa have a saying: ‘Of people, or to which you have the keys,’ meaning one brother would give the keys of his gbo (house) to another, permitting him to act as he saw fit and allow him to help himself to the food of brothers and friends. There is no societal peace and happiness until the people are cared for. Inherent in the Bassa government model are three guiding principles:


Humanism-Humanism teaches that personal aid must be rendered to the satisfaction of the needs of humanity without waiting to be asked, and giving them priority over private needs. The Bassa government focuses first and foremost on humanism, meaning I for you, you for me, all for one another. This principle is intertwined with the Bassa’s view of human management. It is within this framework that children are raised to respect and honor the Elders of the community. They are also taught from youth the responsibilities of manhood, such as providing for their family’s livelihood. The children are given the opportunity to fend for themselves and to learn how to make independent decisions on their own.


As age and seniority play an integral part in Bassa culture, learning and rehearsing such independence gives them the impetus to take on leadership role in the affairs of communities. The message here is: youthfulness and education are not sufficient criteria for leadership; experience, which comes along with age, plays an important role in leadership. The Bassa put it another way: ‘a mon-nyohndyouado’-we are one. Poet John Donne was right when he wrote, several centuries ago, ‘No man is an island.’


A leadership does away with people who do not understand instrumental leadership, which is necessary to organize people in pursuit of communal goals. In humanism, the nuclear family is in name only, and gathering wealth (capitalism) at the expense of other people’s sweat is outside the humanistic norms. Proponents of equality of social conditions question whether true equality of opportunity ever existed in the sharing of wealth and social status in any leadership.


A wholesome, functioning society, according to the Bassa, begins with the whole village, which is responsible for molding the mind of the community. This is why youths are not seen as belonging to their biological families only, but also to their communities as a whole. So, if the parents died, the relatives and, if they were not available, the community would care for the children and afford them the benefits that they would have enjoyed in their original family. That is why there were no homeless children in traditional communities.


For the Bassa, talents, skills, and leadership are not accidental. They spread among the different lineage of a nation, which are available to all youth to learn. Like all African societies, ontology seems to place more emphasis on human beings than on the supernatural. This view does not negate God, as the pinnacle of the Bassa theory of existence, but the human being is the focus, since everything evolves in connection to human existence. A child born within the Bassa culture gets the collective attention of all members of the culture.


The Bassa worldview, like almost all African societies is that, ‘leaders are born and not made’ with campaign and soft money. Child rearing of this kind is stated in a Bassa parable that teaches an individual or group that a nation is a wide robe. It spreads all over the canopy, but it has one root. This also depicts equal opportunity to nurture an expressive and/or instrumental leader to galvanize the people and create harmony and solidarity among the people. While our paradigm of ‘leaders are born’ is diametrically  opposite to contemporary scholars of leaderships, we do not deny the fact that a leader can learn some of the spirit of great pioneers of the past, whose dreams have given to civilization everything of value, which today serves as the life-blood of our humanity.


Non-Partyism-To understand any topic, whether it is English Literature or African science, it is helpful to understand the historical context, or hermeneutics, the science of interpretation and explanation. In this text, our objective is to understand the hermeneutics and history of the political party in order to understand the function of Non-Partyism in the field of human administration. Bearing in mind that before 1917, there were no political parties in Africa because political participation in non-Western lands was historically limited to the social institution or leadership mechanism designed to maintain order.


In other words, the masses were used to doing what their leaders told them as a symbol of national unity and stability because the rules or laws were communicated to those affected. As we have argued throughout this book, imperial rule was in direct opposition to all that is African. First, the nonconformist or the eventual anti-imperialist leaders developed a burning desire for human dignity. They came to feel that such dignity was incompatible with foreign rule, with its smirks and smiles, its paternalism, and condescension.


Second, potential leaders found in the Western world ideologies and justification for their protest. They developed liberalism, with its credo of civil liberty and political self-determination, thereby the notion of building a ‘political party’ derived from Africans imitating the anti-imperialist revolt of Lenin’s version of Marxian socialism. Consequently, Africans holding Western ideology of nationalism was a use of self-evidence that every nation had the right to control its own destiny of which the leaders of Africa believe they were not excluded. It is safe to say, however, that Africans using the European method or ‘political party’ to fight Social Darwinian thought, ‘Blessed are the strong, for they shall prey on the weak.’ (Quoted in Langer, The Diplomacy of Imperialism, and p.88.) Africa should go back to its traditional roots because the fight is over.


The whole Bassa concept of leadership is conceived of as a great Non-Partyism, of which the Gaagba and Maagba are the institutional spines. We will pick up the discussion on Gaagba and Maagba in the latter part of this chapter. For now, let us focus on Non-Partyism. Its central theme is doing away with open political competition that encourages regional and ethnic conflicts. Federalism gives power to the people to make decisions that affect their lives.


Non-Partyism is the building of a revolutionary state that embraces national unity and the development of distinctive characteristics for the basics-emotional bonding for political and socio-economic stability. Divergence of view is neither the cause for a division nor a basis for forming a political party or any other organization. In the application of Non-Partyism, the Bassa did not refuse to work for the good of the community because his idea was rejected. A person may be the so-called conservative, far left, far right, liberal, conservative democratic, conservative liberal, and so forth in traditional communities.


Gradualism-By Humanism we mean that every decision that affects human beings for the better or worst is cared for and impartially examined. If a decision is for the best, it must be the highest good. On the other hand, in case of a bad decision, no leaf is left unturned in the quest to remedy the situation. All noses must be counted and all words must be spoken. All songs must be sung. Proverbs or parables must be exhausted to make the doubtful change and the wise wiser. There must be no imposition, partiality, or coercion to show cleverness to a point where justice is miscarried.


The Bassa government is a political democracy that gives its citizen opportunities to take part in the process of their government. The concept now called democracy was not alien to the entire ancient world. The issue that is of greater concern in Bassa government is to have individuals sit idly by and watch evil people ruin their nation. Therefore, equal responsibility is placed for the ruins of one’s homeland when one individual makes a bad decision.


Regardless of whether it was written or unwritten, it evolved from customary rules of life. For example, most of the African flags today depict the symbol of a tree. This emblem represents the democratic process of traditional African leaders gathering beneath a tree to discuss an issue until an acceptable settlement to all stakeholders was derived. Humanism is justly making the person in question realize why the maximum reward or consequence is handed down as the final decision of the people of the town.


By humanism we also mean ensuring that a majority of the population is not lacking the essentials of life while a handful of elite enjoy and exploit the wealth at the expense of the weak. We are talking about a genuine psychological commitment to fellow citizens emanating from the idea of being a member of the human race. African democracy derives from ‘chiefless societies,’ and when it reaches its highest pinnacle of development, it provides the mechanism for self-governance. By Gradualism, we mean the absence of a ‘hurry-hurry’ process. Every decision must conform to an impartial and gradual process for the benefit of society.


The Bassa take their time to examine the length and the width of any case brought to the ‘waiting feet’ of the people. If a problem arose in the community, it required a timely debate. Time was allocated for every ‘head to be counted.’ A person with knowledge on the issue would be compelled to speak up. If there was a violation of the norms, of the law or of the tradition, it meant the General Sanctum ‘Congress’ was convened. The Chiefs, also called the Naah, administered the hearing in the General Sanctum. Gradualism also means ensuring that no victim is framed for political reasons. Only the guilty person is rendered with a guilty verdict. No decision leaves discord in the community. 

Hierarchy Of The Bassa Model Of Leadership



Breakdown of the hierarchy of Bassa leadership from bottom to top:



Note:            From the above chart, one can tell that the Bassa had a chain of command or organizational chart that made their kingdoms functionally holistic.



Throughout this presentation, I have tried to impress on you that leadership is more than the mere ability to get along with other people. For while getting along with other people is essential for success in any organization, a good leader must also be creative, insightful, hardworking, tactful, and respectful of other people’s point of view within the organization. The good leader must rely on a combination of courage, persuasion, decisiveness, and consultation in order to achieve the goals of his or her organization. For, as former U.S. President John F. Kennedy once said, "Courage-not complacency-is our need today. Leadership not salesmanship." In other words, you can be a good salesman by persuading people to share your ideas, but you would still not be a good leader if you cannot convince the people to implement your ideas.


But I am not encouraging you to be a dictator or to feel that you always have the best ideas. For no matter how smart you think you are, you will always come across people you are smarter than you, or people you may have better ideas than you in particular situations because of their experience in life. You cannot know it all, and you will never know it all. So when I said you could be a good salesman but not a good leader, I didn’t mean for you to copy the leadership style of the famous American gangster boss, Al Capone. For Al Capone laid out his philosophy about leadership and power this way: "You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone." But you know that is not true, even if such leadership tactics worked for the gangster boss. For sometime back in Liberia, our political and religious leaders thought the best leadership style was "Do what I say do, but don’t do what do," but we now know that that double standard in leadership has caused all of us dearly. And we will be fools to do likewise in our respective community, social, cultural, and political organizations.


The various leadership styles and tactics I have referenced in this presentation are not mine. They are grounded in fact, and have been tested over the centuries in societies across the world, irrespective of whatever the terminology the Bassa people used, or the westerners used. For if you carefully looked at the various leadership practices out there today, you are bound to find glaring similarities among them, regardless of the names assigned to each leadership traits and characteristics by different societies.


I said from the beginning of this presentation that Liberia is in a complete mess today due to lack of unity, good leadership and good governance. I also mentioned that instead of us combining our efforts and resources to help ourselves and our people back home, we are too busy trying to prove how smart and civilized we are that we have lost complete focus about why the great Jehovah God (Bomo Vheneh) saved us from the civil war at home to be here. So I want us to think long and hard as to how we can work together to better ourselves and our people back home. And we can begin right now by strengthening UNIBOA.


UNIBOA is supposed to be the organization of all Bassa speaking peoples in the Americas, whether they hail from Rivercess, Grand Bassa, Margibi, Bong (Kokoya), Nimba (Gbii), or Montserrado, or any other place in Liberia. But I have spoken with some friends who think UNIBOA is linked too much toward Grand Bassa County. And I can understand if the founders of UNIBOA came from Grand Bassa, it is only proper for them to lead. But since the organization is for all Bassa-speaking peoples, I think efforts should be made to encourage Bassa people from the other Bassa counties to come in and play an active role in the organization.


However, I didn’t come here to talk about the structure of UNIBOA, so I will leave it alone for now.  But I think you understand me and I understand you. For successful organizations have good leaders who set high standards and goals for the organization, in order to improve  strategic marketing, productivity, quality, and reliability of the organization. For one thing, the organizational climate of the organization speak directly to its  leadership and management style, based on the shared values, , skills, actions, and the priorities of the leader. The ethical and moral behavior or character of the leader also impact greatly on the organization, insofar as to the growth, development, and success of the organization.


The leaders of UNIBOA must also be conscious of the cultural nature of the organization, and take appropriate actions to fulfill the shared values and expectations of the organization. The leaders of UNIBOA are confronted with the Bassa way of doing things, and the western way of doing things. So to be relevant, the leaders of UNIBOA must use tact in navigating between the two worlds in which we have found ourselves. I recognize not every member of UNIBOA or its local chapters is versed in Bassa traditions or in western traditions. Therefore the best leadership strategy is to take steps to make each group feel a sense of belonging. And this is the task before you, the current leaders of UNIBOA chapters, and all of us as Bassa people in the Americas. Of course, I think by now you know that almost anyone can use power to accomplish a task, but it takes great skills to use leadership to accomplish a task. For leadership is much more than using the force of power. Leadership is actually the ability in influencing others to truly want to work hard to achieve a particular set of goals.  Think on these things. I thank you!


Of course, you know by now that to the Bassa man or woman, talents, skills, and leadership are not accidental. They spread among the different lineages of a nation, which are available to all youth to learn. Like all African societies, ontology seems to place more emphasis on human beings than on the supernatural. This view does not negate God, as the pinnacle of the Bassa theory of existence, but the human being is the focus, since everything evolves in connection to human existence. A child born within the Bassa culture gets the collective attention of all members of the culture.


The Bassa worldview, like almost all African societies is that, ‘leaders are born and not made’ with electoral campaigns and soft money. In Bassa societies, child rearing starts with a Bassa parable that teaches an individual or group that a nation is a wide robe. The robe spreads all over the canopy, but it has one root. This also depicts equal opportunity to nurture an expressive by instrumental leader to galvanize the people and create harmony and solidarity among the people. But while the Bassa paradigm of ‘leaders are born’ is diametrically  opposite to contemporary scholars of leaderships, the Bassa people do not deny the fact that a leader can learn from the spirit of great pioneers of the past, whose dreams have given to civilization everything of value, which today serves as the lifeblood of our humanity.


The Bassa model of leadership is wise and rich in parables that seek to unify the people to collective action. If the Bassa elder tells you that "Deeh poein-dyi hweh ke wa kidi tede," (interpreted as red ants bend a nest only when they are united), he is advising you to be as united as the ants, by working together  to improve the living conditions of you and another members of  the community. But if the Bassa elder tells you that "Ni da wouun hwedein ni, oh nyu tonon (translated as water becomes saliva when it remains in the mouth too long), he is advising you to be careful how you leader people. For becoming a leader of any organization or group of people is a privilege, not a right. And some people tempted to turn the privilege of leadership to a birthright, vowing to hang onto power as long as they can. But like the Bassa parable says, if you hang onto power or leadership too long, the possibility exits for your good saliva to turn into "dirty saliva" in the mouths your followers, and they are sure to leave you. In other words, the proverb urges that opportunity or privilege of leadership must be used as quickly, wisely, and responsibly as possible to avoid it being missed or misused. Think on these things. I thank you!