Deconstructing Perceptions Leadership

Anike Bello (Guest Writer)

What does it mean to be a leader? Such a question tends to be framed around appearance, whereby emphasis is largely placed on one’s ability to convince others. Be it through votes, through sales, through social media engagement, in friendship, family or work networks – focus is centred on people remaining hooked to whatever it is that you have to say. A docile audience is the preference within spaces that promote a brand of leadership based on appearance, it can rob each of us of the opportunity to recognise our power to question and discern.

Whilst sharing her thoughts on defining freedom, Writer, Minna Salami noted the importance of “cultivating a mind that cannot be manipulated”, which draws attention to the importance of creating space for honesty and self-reflection. Having a free mind is in direct opposition to forms of leadership centred around maintaining a docile audience. An ability to convince and an ability to lead are two different things, not to say that influence does not play a role in leadership – of course, being able to effectively promote and execute your ideas is important. However, leadership is much more than that. It is a status that embraces and respects the power of truth, awareness, and choice.

Learning from the past

My work centres around ancestry and culture linked to pre-colonial African societies. It presents opportunities to broaden perspective and appreciate different ways of living and understanding human experiences. An example of this can be seen in an aspect of Igbo cosmology, relating to the presence of chi.

Chi is a concept which links to a higher entity (e.g. creator, the divine, God), it exists within each of us and fulfils the role of a personal internal compass to help navigate through life. The significance of chi can be seen in the work of Chinua Achebe in his book ‘Things Fall Apart’ where he notes a proverb, “when a man says yes, his chi concurs”. In this light, chi is linked to the subconscious, registering how we truly feel and contributing to how we experience life. Its presence emphasises the importance of paying attention to your inner world and monitoring how it manifests in your ‘outer’ lived experiences. Given its importance in helping an individual to better understand their circumstances, historically names offered an opportunity for a person to tell a story relating to previous encounters with chi within their ancestral lineage. A lot of Igbo names include a reference to chi, for example Chinwuba (chi has increase), Nebechi (look to chi), Chibuzo (chi is in front) and Chiebonam (may chi not accuse me).

The presence of chi points to a high regard for honesty, it is an aspect of Igbo heritage that indicates a strong belief that the truth will always reveal itself. Bearing this mind, it is important to be present and pay attention to how you process information.


We each have the ability within us to lead and be led. This is what makes lived experiences so interconnected. Bearing this in mind, it is important to create space to question, discern and pay attention to how you are registering information in the process of engaging with others. A beauty exists in knowing that you can engage in an idea whilst also knowing that it does not have to come at the expense of restricting trust in yourself. This creates space to query everything that you encounter as opposed to simply following an idea/figure head just because everyone else is.

Embracing a different way of viewing leadership that is less focused on submission creates more space for self-inquiry, which can provide each of us with much-needed assistance in understanding ourselves as well as our surroundings. This type of leadership is brilliantly summed up in the words of Writer and Poet, Audre Lorde, “I give most strength to my children by being willing to look within myself and be honest with them about what I find there”. By creating more space for honesty, we can embrace the potential that we each have to assist each other to nurture individual and collective growth.


Your Silence will not protect you – Audre Lorde(2017)
Interview for badass women’s hour – Minna Salami
Things fall apart -C hinua Achebe (1958)
Chi, And Healing Words From An Ancient Language – DrUzoma Nwosu

Anike Bello
Founder of Ọ̀RỌ̀ ÀNÍKÉ


Further information on African Spiritual philosophies and practices can be found in our Home Study Course.


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