The forthcoming general election in a matter of weeks is a significant barometer of many things. It provides clarity on the success or failure of the different political parties and political leaders. It also provides some further clarity on the economic and social direction that we as a country are embarked on. But the focus of this article in not on politics as such, but on the importance of our attitude towards our social and political environment and how this impacts on our success or failure as leaders in our own environments.
The story of Jack
In my early teens I had a friend down on the south coast of KwaZulu Natal that clung to me as a bosom pal. I did not have the heart to shake him off to get some time for myself and as a result we spent much time together in adventures typical of young boys growing up virtually free next to the sea and dense sub-tropical vegetation. In many ways it was a great time and place to grow up amongst mambas, sardine runs, blue and green shade, sun burns, devil thorns and matagulu fruits, imagining we were Tarzan with his apes. My biggest challenge during this time was the prevailing attitude of my friend Jack (not his real name). He hated his parents and he hated the whole of society. He was full of energy but of a negative nature. If he had to choose between two courses of action, he consistently chose the dangerous and irresponsible option. I spent a great deal of mental and emotional energy in trying to counter the possible negative consequences of many of the steps he proposed so that we could have some ‘fun’. His ideas invariably involved humiliating somebody or damaging other people’s property in some way or other.
Why do I mention Jack in relation to the topic of this article? Because of Jack’s home environment, he had no respect for anything or anybody in society. His environmental confidence was at very low ebb. He had no desire to develop a proper career or complete his schooling. He was constantly fighting and bickering with teachers at school and eventually left school as soon as he was allowed to do so. Out of school his life was one disaster after the other, getting embroiled in bad company, drinking and criminal activities. I lost contact with him soon afterwards.
How we perceive our environment is a major X factor of our leadership profile
It is one thing to heartily disagree with politicians about social, economic and moral policies and practices that to our mind may be causing the failures of our environment. It is another thing entirely for this negative attitude to overrule our own attitude towards our future. I recall joining a rugby team that was not very successful at the time. A few weeks after joining the club another young player joined us who played provincial school rugby the previous year. His positive attitude inspired the team and lifted their performance to a higher level. He did not allow the negative environment of the club to corrupt his own attitude. It was a good lesson for me and others in the club as well.
A negative space is not a good space to be in. We recognise the negative space we are in when we resist a feeling of gratitude towards life and the joy of living and being and choosing the high road. Such negative feelings are warning signs that we are in prejudiced waters. Do not trust our feelings and decisions when we are in this space.
The blame syndrome
The most difficult tendency for a leader to control when under pressure is to remain true to the most crucial asset of a leader, that of the people who work with him or her. Pressures seem to thrive in bringing out the worst in us on occasion and in a tendency to blame people around or over or under us. The pressures on us as leaders may increase exponentially when we have the tendency to be negative about our environment.
A special kind of leader
There is something special in a leader or worker that will not succumb to the tendency to blame others but rather focuses on the challenges and the processes of successful movement.
The saying ‘Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water’ is an effective warning to us as leaders against destroying the good while we reject the bad. This is applicable in many situations that we come across on a daily basis. We find daily examples of ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water’ in reports in our media of people making judgemental jumps without having all the facts before them. The judgment game is played by many of us every day without necessarily understanding the negative impact it may have on our own leadership confidence and progress.
Negative attitudinal habits are like boils on our skin. They are shackles that hold us back.
Our ability as leaders to cause movement of people and of situations is often shackled by negative habits picked up in the past. We do not always confront our negative shackles because we may tend to justify them.
One of the most prevalent shackles we come across in leaders across the board is the tendency in our society to make harsh judgements of others, especially those in high offices. I expect some of our readers may react somewhat emotionally to this subject because of our right to free speech. The current epidemic of corruption and violence washing through our nation like a tidal wave certainly gives us much justification to be concerned. We believe in freedom of expression and we shudder to think of living in a society that suppresses our beliefs and democratic rights.
The tone of this article is not about criticising the right of free expression. It is about raising concern at some of the negative spinoffs to us as leaders when we allow our freedom of expression to become a negative shackle that inhibits our growth and performance as leaders.
Leadership Platform is in the business of leadership development. Leadership confidence to move people and situations around us are heavily impacted by our attitude towards the society and environment in which we live. We find in hundreds of personal leadership conversations over the years that the leader who flourishes best under pressure is somebody who sees the positive in situations around him or her and refuses to be shackled by the negative actions of others.
How do we see the forthcoming general election? Do we feel inspired by our right to choose, not only which political party we support (if any), but also by the right to choose what attitude we develop towards our environment in general?
This article appeared in the