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Leadership Lessons From Tribal Warrior Leaders

A community?s survival in traditional African village life depended largely on two aspects. One was how well the community could survive natural disasters such as famine or disease epidemics. The second aspect was how tribal leaders could prepare the community in dealing with rivals and wild beasts.

Natural events were considered the act of Ngai (God). The events caused people to search their souls, offer animal sacrifices and probably change aspects of their lifestyle that they deemed unpleasing to Ngai. Natural catastrophes also led to migrations of both people and their livestock.

On the other hand, threat from rival tribes or wild animals were expected. Most communities had tribal structures and strategies for dealing with these threats. Leaders, the people who helped the community not only survive but also thrive in the chaotic circumstances, were hallowed. As a youth growing up in Kangundo, Kenya, I heard stories of Mwatu Wa Ngoma, the legendary Kamba tribe warrior who helped our people defeat rivalry tribes.

Mwatu Wa Ngoma led men to wars to protect lives or retrieve stolen livestock. What set him apart, however, were three basic practices. First, he was known for serving his warriors to the extent that he even worked with them as they made their bows and arrows. Such experience gave him the opportunity to listen, observe and relate with his fighters. It was in such an atmosphere that he taught them ways of the tribe and what pertains to manhood. He developed his warriors for a life fulfilled as opposed to training them for war projects.

The second aspect about Mwatu was his constant effort to grow himself. In those days, physical fitness and ability to understand signs of the times were necessities. To grow one has to be a learner or change something he/she does routinely. In today?s workplaces, if you don?t grow, you are let go.

This Kamba leader was not just a transmitter of information to his men. He was a receptive leader. Before responding to a threat, he inquired the wisdom of Syokimau, the Kamba people prophetess who foresaw the coming of Europeans; people coming in the water (ship), traveling inside snakes (trains) and with fire in their pockets (matchbox). She provided him with the spiritual discernment he needed.

There was another group Mwatu relied on, Athiani, the equivalent of today?s sports scouts. He would send them to study the landscape, movement patterns, and preparedness of the threatening tribe. Equipped with the knowledge from his Athiani group and wisdom from the woman with connection to Ngai, Mwatu was ready to protect his tribe and their property.

As a Kamba leader, Mwatu Wa Ngoma was a great orator. His words inspired his men to sacrifice their lives for the common good of the tribe. Inspired action, not manipulated action, is what leads to trust, commitment and long-term benefits.

In Mwatu?s time a tribal battle required different units of warriors. Some were left behind protecting the community. Another unit retrieved raided livestock while another unit was engaged in battle. As their leader, Mwatu knew each warrior?s talents. He assigned the warriors into units that required their skills. It was also his responsibility to coordinate the efforts of the various units.

As a leader in your ?village? ask yourself the following:

How are you developing your people?

Are you earning their trust and are you open to their input?

Are you encouraging or manipulating them?

When last did you do something for them that adds value to their lives and not necessarily related directly to the monetary bottom line?

Are you modeling what you would like them to be?

When was the last time you learned something new that you applied in your life or work?

When was the last time you tried something different in your professional and/or personal life?

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