By Yinka Odumakin
HUMANITY has never been in want of depraved and very mean humans who are so drained of its essential ingredients.
One of the most inconsiderate statements ever made in history was the phrase “let them eat cake” first attributed to Marie Antoinette in 1789, supposedly having been uttered during one of the famines in France during the reign of her husband, King Louis XVI.
Although anti-monarchists never cited the anecdote during the French Revolution, it acquired great symbolic importance in subsequent historical accounts when pro-revolutionary commentators employed the phrase to denounce the upper classes of the Ancien Régime as oblivious and rapacious.
As one biographer of the Queen notes, it was a particularly powerful phrase because “the staple food of the French peasantry and the working class was bread, absorbing 50 percent of their income, as opposed to five percent on fuel; the whole topic of bread was, therefore, the result of obsessional national interest.
The phrase appears in book six of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, whose first six books were written in 1765, when Marie Antoinette was nine years of age, and published in 1782. In the book, Rousseau recounts an episode in which he was seeking bread to accompany some wine he had stolen.
Feeling too elegantly dressed to go into an ordinary bakery, he recalled the words of a great princess. He wrote: “At length I remembered the last resort of a princess who when told the peasants were riotinng because they could not afford to buy bread asked them to eat cake.”
Fraser also points out in her biography that Marie Antoinette was a generous patron of charity and moved by the plight of the poor when it was brought to her attention, thus making the statement out-of-character for her.
A second consideration is that there were no actual famines during the reign of King Louis XVI and only two incidents of serious bread shortages, the first in April- May 1775, a few weeks before the king’s coronation on June 11, 1775, and the second in 1788, the year before the French Revolution. The 1775 shortages led to a series of riots that took place in northern, eastern and western France, known at the time as the Flour War (guerre des farines). Letters from Marie Antoinette to her family in Austria at this time, however, reveal an attitude largely contrary to the spirit of ‘Let them eat brioche.”
Some accounts have said there is a problem with the dates surrounding the attribution in that when the phrase first appeared, Marie Antoinette was not only too young to have said it, but living outside France as well. Although published in 1782, Rousseau’s Confessions were finished thirteen years prior in 1769. Marie Antoinette who was said to be only fourteen years old at the time, would not arrive at Versailles from Austria until 1770. Since she was completely unknown to him at the time of writing, she could not have possibly been the “great princess.”
The increasing unpopularity of the Queen in the final years before the outbreak of the French Revolution has also likely influenced many to attribute the phrase to her. Official histories are always written by palace courtiers and may shade the truth. We, therefore, owe it a duty to write our history on the run so that the palace untruths would not blur the truth down the line.
If we don’t, generations down the line may read that Alhaji Lai Mohammed was a teenager during #ENDSARS and could not have been saying there was massacre without dead bodies even when Lagos Coroner was advertising for the public to come and claim unindentified corpses dumped in its mortuaries from October 19-27, 2020.
It may even be said that Mallam Garba Shehu was a businessman in Kano and not a spokesman to the president when he was dancing on the graves of 110 farmers killed by Boko Haram in Borno State whom he said did not take permission from the Army to harvest rice that they did not seek permit from to plant. That the mallam still has a job at the villa is the greatest evidence that he spoke for his employer and that officially the life of a cow has more value under the regime.
The Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Burarai who can announce to the country to be ready to live under terror of what officials call ‘degraded Boko Haram” for another years may have his words changed to other stuff. There is no doubt that we have official meanness running our lives today in this sorrowful season in the life of Nigeria.
We cannot forget in a hurry when Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue was invited to the Villa shortly after 78 indigenes of the state were slaughtered on new year day in 2018 by Miyetti Allah and told to go and learn how to live in peace with his neighbours. Not one person is on trial today for that dastardly act even when responsibility was claimed.
I love Mike Myatt who shared ways to identify bad leaders:
Leaders who can’t see it, probably won’t find it: Leaders without vision will fail. Leaders who lack vision cannot inspire teams, motivate performance, or create sustainable value. Poor vision, tunnel vision, vision that is fickle, or a non-existent vision will cause leaders to fail. A leader’s job is to align the organisation around a clear and achievable vision. This cannot occur when the blind lead the blind.
When leaders fail to lead themselves: A leader who lacks character or integrity will not endure the test of time. It doesn’t matter how intelligent, affable, persuasive, or savvy a person is, if they are prone to rationalising unethical behaviour based upon current or future needs, they will eventually fall prey to their own undoing. Optics over ethics is not a formula for success.
Put-up or shut-up: Nothing smacks of poor leadership like a lack of performance. Nobody is perfect, but leaders who consistently fail are not leaders, no matter how much you wish they were. While past performance is not always a certain indicator of future events, a long-term track record of success should not be taken lightly. Someone who has consistently experienced success in leadership roles has a much better chance of success than someone who has not. It’s important to remember unproven leaders come with a high risk premium. Smart companies recognise potential, but they reward performance.
Beware the know-it-all: The best leaders are acutely aware of how much they don’t know. They have no need to be the smartest person in the room, but have the unyielding desire to learn from others. I’ve often said, leaders who are not growing cannot lead a growing enterprise. One of the hallmarks of great leaders is their insatiable curiosity. If a leader isn’t extremely curious about every aspect of their organisation, trust me when I say there are huge problems on the horizon.
When there’s a failure to communicate: When leaders are constantly flummoxed by those who don’t seem to get it, there exists both a leadership and communications problem. Show me a leader with poor communication skills and I’ll show you someone who will be short-lived in their position. Great leaders can communicate effectively across mediums, constituencies, and environments. They are active listeners, fluid thinkers, and know when to dial it up, down, or off.
It’s all about them: If a leader doesn’t understand the concept of “service above self” they will not engender the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those they lead. Any leader is only as good as his or her team’s desire to be led by them. An over abundance of ego, pride, and arrogance are not positive leadership traits. Real leaders take the blame and give the credit – not the other way around. Long story short; if a leader receives a vote of non-confidence from their subordinates…game over.
Sing a little Kumbaya: While love and leadership are certainly two words you don’t often hear in the same sentence, I can assure you that rarely does great leadership exist without love being present and practiced. In fact, if you examine failed leaders as a class, you’ll find that a lack of love, misplaced love, or misguided love were a contributing cause of said failures, if not the root cause. Empathy, humility and kindness are signs of leadership strength – not weakness.
One size fits all leadership style: The best leaders are fluid and flexible in their approach. They understand the power of, and necessity for contextual leadership. “My way or the highway” leadership styles don’t play well in today’s world, will result in a fractured culture, and ultimately a non-productive organization. Only those leaders who can quickly recognise and adapt their methods to the situation at hand will be successful over the long haul. Think open-source not proprietary, surrender not control, and collaborate not dictate.
Lack of focus: Leadership is less about balance and more about priority. The best leaders are ruthless in their pursuit of focus. Those leaders who lack the focus and attention to detail needed to apply leverage and resources in an aggressive and committed fashion will perish. Leaders who are not intentional and are not focused, will fail themselves and their team. Leaders who lack discipline will model the wrong behaviours and will inevitably spread themselves too thin. Organisations are at the greatest risk when leaders lose their focus. Intentions must be aligned with results for leaders to be effective.
Death by comfort zone: The best organisations beat their competition to the future, and the best leaders understand how to pull the future forward. Leaders satisfied with the status quo, or those who tend to be more concerned about survival than growth won’t do well over the long-run. The best leaders are focused on leading change and innovation to keep their organisations fresh, dynamic and growing. Bottom line – leaders who build a static business doom themselves to failure.
Not paying attention to the consumer: Leaders not attuned to the needs of the market will fail. As the old saying goes, if you’re not taking care of your customers, someone else will be more than happy to. Successful leaders focus on the consumer experience, which in turn leads to satisfaction and loyalty. The best leaders find ways to consistently engage the consumer and incorporate them into their innovation and planning initiatives. If you ignore, mistreat, or otherwise don’t value your customer base, your days as a leader are most certainly numbered.
Get invested: Leaders not fully committed to investing in those they lead will fail. The best leaders support their team, build into their team, mentor and coach their team, and they truly care for their team. A leader not fully invested in their team won’t have a team – at least not an effective one. Never forget the old saying, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care – words to live by for leaders.
The “A” word: Real leaders are accountable. They don’t blame others, don’t claim credit for the success of their team, but always accept responsibility for failures that occur on their watch. Most of all, leaders are accountable to their team. I’ve always said that leaders not accountable to their people will eventually be held accountable by their people.
It’s the culture stupid: The lesson here is that culture matters – forget this and all other efforts with regard to talent initiatives will be dysfunctional, if not altogether lost. Don’t allow your culture to evolve by default, create it by design. The first step in cultural design is to be very, very careful who you let through the front door. People, their traits, attitudes, and work ethic (or lack thereof) are contagions. This can be positive or negative – the choice is yours. The old saying, “talent begets talent” is true, but talent that aligns with culture will produce better results than talent that does not.
Goodnite Mummy Ibadan
IT’s been a week of activities in celebration of the late Rev. Tola Oyediran who lived a wonderful life dedicated to the service of God, family and humanity.
All those she impacted had great things to say about her. It is time to say bye to this wonderful woman as we pray that God comforts and be with her family.
A lonely moment it must be for Auntie Tokunbo now.