President Adama Barrow

Anyone who truly wishes President Barrow and his cabinet ministers and their key advisers well must draw their attention to this write-up. 

Scathing and lengthy as it may appear, this write-up article is not all boring. It highlights what the President and his top-level team need to do to get hold of the Administration and, by so doing, safeguard his legacy. 

Being good at leadership does not require one to have some profession. Many great leaders came from all stripes of life. For example, former United States President Abraham Lincoln never received a formal education. However, he managed to hold the Union together and is often considered the greatest President of the United States. 

There have been many great leaders throughout history who come forward as leaders from different professions. Leaders are no exception to reading and seeking new knowledge. 

I will mention some leaders who were avid readers and later became (or were offered) leadership roles and turned into visionary leaders. 

The leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests that reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through “a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills.” 

Whether Wikipedia, Michael Lewis, or Aristotle, reading is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information. Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. 

Barrow and his cabinet ministers

Moreover, leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organisations are more likely to innovate and prosper.

Reading can also make you more effective in leading others. Reading increases verbal intelligence, creating a leader more adept and articulate communicator. 

Reading fiction and non-fiction books can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to work better with and understand others, traits that American author and journalist Anne Kreamer persuasively linked to increased organisational effectiveness and pay raises and promotions for leaders who possessed these qualities. 

Moreover, any business person understands that heightened emotional intelligence will improve their leadership and management ability. However, active literary life can make you more personally effective by keeping you relaxed and improving your health. 

Reading is the best way to relax for stressed executives, as reading for six minutes can reduce stress. Some studies suggest that reading may even fend off Alzheimer’s, extending the longevity of the mind. 

Reading more can lead to many benefits for business people of all stripes, and broad, deep reading can make you a better leader. So how can you get started?

Good leaders who read widely can be considered excellent leaders, and leaders who do not read can be atrocious. This is to make the point that good leaders read and can become leaders. However, their authorship readership itself positively influences whether or not the individual will be a good or bad leader.

Reading great literature and fiction opens your mind and heart to new ideas, helps you think in new and different ways, and gives you insights into the thought processes of (fictional) characters that you would not otherwise be able to get. 

All these things broaden and deepen the worldview and character of a leader. In addition, reading non-fiction broadens the amount of information available to a leader and can improve problem-solving skills. 

Finally, even if leaders are reading non-fiction outside of leadership or management, there is a good chance that a new idea or creative approach to a problem at work might be triggered by something they have read.

Furthermore, finally, reading helps keep our brains young and plastic as we age. If we continue to read, we stay curious and can better process information into our later years. 

Reading great literature and fiction and non-fiction books opens your mind and heart to new ideas, enables you to think in new and different ways, and gives you insights into the thought processes of (fictional) characters that you would not otherwise be able to get. 

All these things broaden and deepen the worldview and character of a leader. In addition, reading non-fiction broadens the amount of information available to a leader and can lead to improved problem-solving skills. 

Even if they are reading non-fiction outside of leadership or management, there is a good chance that a new idea or creative approach to a problem at work might be triggered by something they have read. 

Moreover finally, reading helps keep our brains young and plastic as we age. If we continue to read, we stay curious and can better process information into our later years.

Now that the new ministers appointed by President Adama Barrow have taken their oath of office and are ready and prepared to embark on work, a few concerned Gambians took to Twitter to recommend a reading list of good books for all cabinet ministers and special advisers, irrespective of the level of their education and life experiences. 

It will be helpful to them and provide necessary information, knowledge, and guidance suitable for their various government and public policy assignments.

Some Gambians on social media with a keen interest in all things, mainly about the Gambia, were storified with various suggestions about the new cabinet ministers and how they can better perform and deliver to the people’s expectations. 

A reading list was one suggestion that is not difficult to explain: the received wisdom is that persons in such influential and powerful positions at the cabinet-level should be knowledge seekers and workers. 

In the age of knowledge and information, it will be disastrous indeed to have any dandified ignoramus at the highest levels of government. After all, “Reading maketh the man,” Francis Bacon said. 

Leaders need to read to find things and develop ideas and concepts that inspire. However, also to stay ahead of the curve. Readers read for many reasons and a few to become a leader, but most do not. 

One of the most outstanding leaders, former United States president John F Kennedy, the famous quote reads, “Learning and leadership are indispensable.” What society has taught many the civilians to think is that when a leader picks up a book and reads or probably mentions what book they are reading, then the masses rush for it because they think that they will figure out what the “leader “has picked from the book to make them better at being a leader. 

When you read, you are exposed to many different subjects and ideas. Being open to new ideas and suggestions is an essential quality in a leader. The background knowledge in various subjects also helps make you more well-founded in your areas of expertise.

Common sense tells you that being a leader, you need to be on top of what is happening around you if you have to lead a team. Therefore, reading is the primary channel of Learning, and I agree that readers should be good leaders. 

Great leaders are people who continue to improve themselves. There are many ways to improve oneself, such as reading good books, reading newspapers, reading magazines and learning from others, especially mentors, watching TV, and listening to teachings. 

However, the best is still reading good books. It gives us time to reflect and digest and go back often to remember and recall. When you read, you are exposed to many different subjects and ideas. 

Being open to new ideas and suggestions is an essential quality in a leader. The background knowledge in various subjects also helps make you more well-founded in your areas of expertise. 

However, a reading list is thus an admonition, a reminder, and a statement about the importance of reading. In every respect, a worthy proposition.

Since President Adama Barrow had made it clear to the new Cabinet Ministers that he wanted a cabinet of knowledgeable men and women whom he had deliberately put together to help deliver his transformation agenda through hard work, dedication, efficiency, and faithful execution. 

However, like in other countries, each cabinet minister and top advisers received a pack of reading materials including the copy of Constitution, the General Orders and Blueprint Economic Development Agenda and other, relevant statutes and Public Service Rules.

Having a knowledgeable cabinet can lead to a situation when a list of recommended books is suggested to all cabinet members, such as a reading textbook like Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew’s best-selling book “From Third World to First:The Singapore Story.” 

This can be followed by reading other good books like Richard Dowden’s Africa: The altered States, Ordinary Miracles. Reading such excellent books can be helpful in public policy, good governance, and speeches, and quoting leaders like Lee Kuan Yew, although good to quote Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart or Cyprian Ekwensi (An African’s Night’s Entertainment, Burning Grass, Passport of Mallam Ilia) and the late Tai Solarin. Their writings covered a broad range from public policy and governance to public morality.

However, book reading by cabinet ministers can be even more formalised with the reading by all cabinet members of a book titled If We Can Put A Man On The Moon: Getting Big Things Done In Government authored by William D. Eggers and John O’Leary. 

The recommended book reading will inspire cabinet ministers and advisers to make a great success of the several necessary initiatives to achieve the National Development Plan and President Barrow’s vision. 

The promotion of this culture is that reading good books is sustainable. Books are vehicles of ideas, albeit the application of those ideas and the quality and impact are just as crucial. 

The main point, of course, is to understand what the book teaches and have the capacity to apply what is learned. In a country where people usually stop reading after graduating from school, it is essential to encourage those who make critical decisions to read and think. 

Those who hold this view will have no problems appreciating a reading list initiative. The outcome is quite interesting.

I have compiled a reading list of good books available during my vacation with  Joan Shorenstein Centre on the Press, Politics, and Public, Policy fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, dealing with governance, policy, biographical narratives, power politics, and history. 

These include Daniel Yergin, The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World; Daren Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria; Joe Studwell, How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region; Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power; Nasir El-Rufai, The Accidental Public Servant; Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People;Olusegun Obasanjo, My Watch (Vol 2); Hernando do Soto, The Mystery of Capital; Franklin Zimring, The City that Became Safe; William Rosen, The Most Powerful Idea in the World; Archie Brown, The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age; Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; Karlson Hargroves and Michael Smith, The Natural Advantage of Nations; Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York; Zoltan J. Acs, Innovation and Growth of Cities, C.K. Prahalad,The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid; Nicos Komninos, The Age of Intelligent Cities, John C. Maxwell, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point.

Other recommendations include Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations; Malcolm Gladwell, David, and Goliath, T D Jakes, Instinct, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, Thanks for the Feedback; Dan Senor and Saul Singer, Startup Nation; Richard Branson, Losing my Virginity; Muhammad Yunus, Building Social Business; Rashid Al Maktoum, My Vision; Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor, Lee Kuan Yew, From Third World to First: The Singapore Story; John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Machiavelli, The Prince, Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull, Creativity Inc., Gregg Braden, The God Code, Moises Naim, The End of Power; Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog, David Osborne, and Ted Gaebler, Reinventing Government; Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?; Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb, I am Malala; Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less; The World Watch Institute, Governing for Sustainability, Claudia Altucher, Become an Idea Machine; Dambisa Moyo, Dead Aid; Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, The Second Machine Age; William Easterly, The Tyranny of Experts, Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace; Jim Huling, Sean Covey and Chris McChesney, The Four Disciplines of Execution, Daniel Goleman, Leadership, Jay Elliot with William Simon, The Steve Jobs Way; Charles Colson, The Good Life; Goke Adegoroye, Restoring Good Governance in Nigeria; David Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations; and William Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth.

The preceding list shows an eclectic range of covered subjects and a fixation on foreign authors and publications. Except in about five instances, almost all the authors are foreign. 

However, without any doubt, these are books of great value and penetrating insights. I will recommend Break Out Nations by Ruchir Sharma if I must add one more. However, my concern is the relative absence of Gambian books, authors, and narratives on the list. 

The big problem with governance in the Gambia is not the lack of understanding of the catch-phrases of power, modern politics, and policy; in fact, it is fashionable to be seen to have read some of these books; the problem lies in a gross and pervasive lack of understanding of the Gambia itself. 

Therefore, in addition to everything else, anyone who wants to govern the Gambia must begin with reading books on and about the Gambia: its history, people, geography, and social culture. A starting point should be The History of the Gambia.

Those who occupy high positions should also read Gambian newspapers, watch local television, listen to Gambian stories, and not restrict themselves to foreign media. 

Every Minister must start by keeping abreast of the news: not summaries by media aides, but a genuine effort to know what the people want, feel, or think. 

Some people who suddenly become cabinet ministers do not know any other part of the Gambia apart from their ethnic enclaves. They have no friends outside their states of origin. 

They may never have traveled around the country! Nobody can govern the Gambia or make a difference who does not know the country. This disconnect is often the bane of performance.

It is also regrettable that when people get to high office in the Gambia, they soon get consumed with the minutiae and the ceremony of being assertive. 

They devote little or no time to reflection and contemplation as time passes. Since academics and professionals are appointed to serve in the cabinet, they find time to read, unlike politicians who can hardly find time to read: “In the last two years, I have been busy with opposition, new political party and elections. I used to read a book a week when I was less busy. 

But now, I just read files and documents and so on. My advice to anyone that thinks being Minister is nice doesn’t try it. You don’t get to read; you don’t have a life.” said a former cabinet minister.

Precisely the point: In a society where talk is so cheap and rumor-mongering is rife, and perhaps our leaders need to genuinely find the leisure window to develop their mental capacity and personal horizons to act and lead better.

The Oprah Winfrey Bookclub has attracted thousands to follow her lead, her being a “leader. “Now, in reality, before she even got on TV, she was an ardent reader of books. 

She had developed a habit over the years before her success. Warren Buffet, Jack Ma, Bill Gates, etc., all have the same thing: they have a reading habit. 

They have reached a point where they even share a liking for a particular writer and are people of influence. They can sit down with the writers to get a more personal experience. You can not be a better leader if you do not develop the habit of reading a book every so often.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

Alagi Yorro Jallow

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