At a time when our leadership icon Mr Nelson Mandela is at the forefront of our minds, it may be appropriate to reflect on what we have done, or can do, about his leadership legacy and even consider moving South Africa’s leadership legacy to the next level?
There is no doubt that if great leadership was not demonstrated in our country’s past, South Africa would have been a very different place. This is something to be proud of. Having said this, there is obviously a strong case to be made for “ineffective leadership” that has brought about or exacerbated many of the daunting challenges we currently face.
I want, however, to suggest that what we have not done is capitalize effectively on our Mandela leadership legacy by moving it to the “next level”. The result is we may very well have moved backwards to some degree.
Some time back a senior ANC leader explained to me that when Jacob Zuma became President of the ANC and then South Africa they expressed one core desire – “Madiba legacy revived”. Perhaps this meant a legacy of forgiveness, openness, inclusiveness, giving rather than taking, service (Mandela day), sharing, respecting, performing, approachability, unity, and much more.
From a leadership point of view when one looks at the behaviour and performance of some top politicians and societal leaders, the success of the above desire can be questioned.
Of course we all want to revive the ‘magic’ of the Mandela era, while rounding it off with an equally ‘magic’ touch of tangible delivery – real and sustainable change. Is this remotely possible if a culture of full ownership does not permeate our society; if we expect politicians to solve everything; if the leaders we follow cannot be followers themselves?
And I pose this question: Nelson Mandela’s legacy revived among whom? Is the “next level” of our leadership legacy to merely revive this ‘Mandela leadership’ among the political leaders in South Africa?
Our current level and frame of reference is one of a leadership legacy that was built by politicians, struggle hero’s and others that demonstrated an attitude of carving out a future together. The rest of us became mere recipients of this leadership legacy and ordinary South Africans may have distanced themselves from it.
This is a mistake.
The next level to which we should move is where this leadership effectively filters to the masses and where more ordinary South Africans stand up to assist the politicians in leading SA towards its destiny of excellence.
However, to reach a point where most South Africans truly believe that they are leaders, even though they are not moving within the highest echelons of political structures, is a challenge. There exists a perception that one is a leader only when one has been appointed to a formal position. Yet ironically everyone has an opinion about leadership, how to lead, about good or bad leadership.
Is it because everyone has been led somewhere in their lives? Is it because every single person is being led at any given moment in time? Is it because every person is in fact a leader?
I believe it is all of the above but more specifically I want to address the largely undiscovered truth that almost every person is in fact a leader!
In essence leaders are in the business of movement – themselves, others, attitudes, ideas, organisations, countries and so on. A primary function of a leader is to generate movement, more commonly referred to as change, growth, development, and so on.
If you are in agreement then the following is also true: If you are a regular day to day parent you are leading your children towards a certain belief system or value system, coping with life, and teaching them skills, which means you create movement.
If you are a junior supervisor in an organisation you strive to move your staff to perform better and you are striving to improve the output of whatever you do, which means you are leading.
I can go on with examples. So, nearly every person has an opinion about leadership because they are leaders – they just don’t necessarily believe or know it consciously mostly because society is confused about what a leader is.
Please understand that the debate is no longer who is a leader, because we all are!
The debate is how to get people to accept and believe that they are already leaders and then how to consciously be one every day. Collectively we are trying to move our society towards one of a value system of excellence. Every time you stand up and do what is right and excellent, you help to move the value system in the right direction and therefore lead, even if no one sees you. Also remember that a great leader is always a great follower. One cannot be one without the other.
We need to support more fully a spirit of service while overcoming debilitating practices like entitlement. Dallin H. Oaks a former US Supreme Court Judge said the following about entitlement, which is certainly one of the barriers to elevating our leadership legacy.
“The worldly aspiration of our day is to get something for nothing. The ancient evil of greed shows its face in the assertion of entitlement: I am entitled to this or that because of who I am – a son or a daughter, a citizen, a victim, or a member of some other group. Entitlement is generally selfish. It demands much, and it gives little or nothing. Its very concept causes us to seek to elevate ourselves above those around us. The values of the world wrongly teach that ‘it’s all about me.’ That corrupting attitude produces no change and no growth.
And we would do well to internalise this statement by Thomas S Monson: “Vice never leads to virtue. Hate never promotes love. Cowardice never gives courage. Doubt never inspires faith. Times change, but truth persists. When we fail to profit from the experiences of the past, we are doomed to repeat them with all their heartache, suffering, and anguish.”
Admiring Mr Nelson Mandela as a leader is one thing, but learning from him and his experiences and following his example is another? May we honour him by doing the latter.
Our challenge to you: in your roles – father, mother, employee, citizen, manager, politician, community leader or whatever – stand up for what is right. Adopt “Mandela Leadership” in some form and help us move South Africa towards an even greater leadership legacy. If not for yourself, your future generations or our country, do it for Mr Nelson Mandela. Be part of the solution rather than the problem; focus on taking ownership and creating effective movement where you stand!
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