Leadership lessons from Keshi

Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

“People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society” – Vince Lombardi

Great Nigerian football icon Stephen Keshi began his journey to eternity two days ago. Over the last 35 years he had tremendous influence on the game of football in Nigeria and Africa. A leadership guru, John Maxwell once said that “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less. The true measure of leadership is influence.”Therefore it is safe to say that Keshi had remarkable leadership skills that influenced generations of football players in Nigeria and Africa over a thirty five- year period. He was undoubtedly one of the most influential persons in the history of the game of football in Nigeria and Africa.

One thing we need to learn as a people and a nation is that we must continuously and consistently be on the quest for leadership lessons from fellow Nigerians (Africans) who have distinguished themselves in their various areas of influence and expertise. Stephen Keshi is a Nigerian and African football legend. He had great leadership skills that was so apparent to his fellow Super Eagles team mates who nick named him the “BIG BOSS”.

I will be sharing with you some of the leadership lessons I have learnt from Keshi’s life. And as Nigerians, we all can learn one or two leadership lessons from the leader in Keshi. The leader in Keshi had a NEVER-SAY-DIE ATTITUDE. He was persistent and he persevered through so many challenges. One was in 1985 when he was banned from the Nigerian national team. That didn’t stop him from playing professional football. He just looked for another country that would accept him to play football as a professional and that country was Cote d’Ivoire.True leaders never ever give up. They have a NEVER-SAY-DIE ATTITUDE.

The leader in Keshi had BIG DREAMS and was AMBITIOUS. He had a VISION and many GOALS for himself, his team and the players he coached. He had a dream to play football internationally. That was why he went to several countries pursuing his dreams. He took his football career first to Cote d’Ivoire and then to Belgium and France. He also had a dream to be an international coach.
He saw himself as one. He moved to the United States of America and there he worked hard and studied hard to become a coach. He coached three different African national teams in his lifetime – Togo, Mali and Nigeria. The leader in Keshi believed in TEAMWORK. He was a TEAM PLAYER and a TEAM LEADER. His Super Eagles teammates called him “BIG BOSS” because of the exceptionalleadership skills he exhibitedas a player and also for his ability to get the work done through his team. He inspired, motivated and mobilized the Super Eagles team to victory both as a captain and a coach. He was also a team builder.

The leader in Keshi was FOCUSED and RESULT ORIENTED. He was in the team that won the 1994 AFCON Cup. He was the game changer who helped the Super Eagles to qualify for their first ever appearance in the FIFA World Cup in 1994 that took place in the USA.He did that in spite of the fact that he was the oldest player in the team at that time. The leader in Keshi did what Nigerians and other people thought was IMPOSSIBLE.

When the Super Eagles were going to South Africa to play in the 2013 AFCON tournament, many Nigerian football fans did not give Keshi or the team a chance. Nonetheless, Keshi did the impossible and inspired the super Eagles to victory. He set the example by always giving over and above 100% and he carried the team in that light. He was selfless in his pursuit to bring out the best in the SUPER EAGLES.

The leader in Keshi was a PATHFINDER and DOOR OPENER. He was also a DREAM MAKER. He was a helper of destiny for numerous others. He opened the flood gate of opportunities for fellow players. He was a pathfinder for Nigerian football migrants. He opened the door to Europe and international professional football for Nigerian players such as Samson Siasia, Daniel Amokachi, and so many others such as Ghanaian player Nii Lamptey. And as a result of that many of them were extremely successful in their football careers.

Keshi was hard working, big-hearted, committed, frank and resolute in getting the job done. He was a mobilizer which helped him to get the job done in spite of the outrageous obstacles and challenges he faced. The leader in Keshi had a LARGE-HEART. He loved his wife dearly. And he loved his children dearly. He loved the game of football. And He loved playing football.

He loved his teammates. And he loved his players. He loved the Super Eagles. And he loved playing as a member of the Super Eagles team. He loved wearing the green and white Nigerian jersey. And he loved playing for his country. He loved Nigerians. And he loved his nation Nigeria. Everything he did he tried his best to do out of a heart of love.

The leader Keshi BELIEVED in his players and brought out the BEST in them especially the home-based players. He had a special place in his heart for home based players. He was the second coach to consistently use home based players in the Super Eagles, international tournaments. Clement Westerhof was the first national coach to the Super Eagles to do that.Leadership expert John Maxwell also said “Leaders are meant to help others become the people God created them to be.”True leaders BELIEVE in their people and they bring out the BEST in them.

The leader in Keshi was a GROUND BREAKER, PACESETTER and a TRAIL BLAZER. He was the first Nigerian and the second African to win the African Cup of Nations tournament both as a player and as a coach. On his watch in 2013, Nigeria won the African Cup of Nation trophy and qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals that same year. Keshi was the first African coach to qualify two African country’s national football teams for the FIFA World Cup finals (i.e. Togo and Nigeria). He was the first Nigerian and second coach to take the Super Eagles to the second round of the FIFA World Cup. He was the first and only black African coach to coach a national team in the knockout stage of the World Cup. True leaders are GROUND BREAKERS, PACESETTERS and TRAIL BLAZERS.These are leadership lessons from Stephen Keshi. He indeed was a true leader.

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