With some people it seems as though life, or its not-so-distant affiliate destiny, deliberately positions them at certain places, in front of certain people, at specific times.
Jay Naidoo, our special guest on CliffCentral Leadership Platform recently, seems to be such a person. He was of course raised in a much politicised environment and this had a direct impact on him – not being allowed to visit certain places, do certain things and enjoy certain privileges.
The first political meeting he attended was as a 15 year-old where he listened to Steve Biko, who was charismatic, articulate and spelt out the current reality. Biko’s view was that they were either for justice or for injustice. This became a guiding principle in Naidoo’s life, hence the title of his recently launched book Fighting for Justice.
The then-current political reality, meeting extraordinary individuals like Steve Biko and the foundation of values his mother taught him (integrity, honesty, service, compassion, love), steered him towards a prominent part of his destiny. I say part of his destiny because just perhaps “destiny” has more in store.
He met the late President Nelson Mandela the day he was released and was surprised and even impressed by how casually, comfortably he engaged him by taking him on a tour of the house he lived in for such a long time, and offering him tea. Naidoo says of Mandela: “When you are in the presence of Mandela you felt like you were in the center of the universe; that he is talking to you with attentiveness; he listens”
Then President Mandela asked him to serve in his cabinet and when this man, himself an undisputed consequence of “destiny” invites one to become part of such an exciting historical period, declining is not an option.
And so Naidoo became part of this team that reconstructed a new society with democratic ideals and of course our constitution that he speaks about with passion. Of serving under Nelson Mandela he says: “From the day I met Mandela to the day he retired, I never worked for him, I worked with him”. What a powerful leadership principle. Some leaders exert “power over” people, while in fact they should be exerting power over “things” – structure, systems, often tangible entities. To get the best out of a person the leader should adopt a “power with” and not a “power over” attitude.
Naidoo once said this about our constitution: “The constitution is fundamentally the most important document. It enshrines everything we stood for and the political settlement we had between two sides that could have taken this country to civil war.
“The political negotiation was a result of a stale mate. We didn’t defeat each other; we reached a stalemate where we realized if we did not sit in a room and rise above this conflict we will have a scorched earth for everybody.”
Leaders from both sides rose above the situation and probably also ego and self interest and created a shared interest, which resulted in an internationally respected constitution that we today don’t appreciate enough – we do not relate it to the debates and struggles that rage on a day to day basis.
I often wonder whether our leaders did enough to “land” the constitution into the ordinary South African’s heart. From a leadership perspective it takes deliberate effort, incredible energy and time to align minds and hearts to a new vision and values, especially when it comes from the top down.
If this is not done effectively and victory is declared too soon, followers simply do not own the change mentally and emotionally, behavior does not change and leaders end up “fighting the same battles” over and over. A universal leadership principle is this: “What you create you support and even love”. This applies to anything, whether it is participating in creating a baby or drafting some plan. Parents love and support their children because they are co-creators of them. Leaders like Roelf Meyer and Jay Naidoo whom I have met, who co-created our constitution, feel very passionate about it and support it fully. Most South Africans were not part of its creation and are therefore beneficiaries of it but not passionate supporters. At times it feels to me like ordinary South Africans hardly know, understand and believe in our constitution.
On another occasion Naidoo shared with me that we have to go back to those values that many of our previous leadership represented. In leaders like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo there “was an absence of political arrogance and a genuine commitment to work with organisations and with people to solve problems that we face. So there was ownership of the solutions.” How we need this attitude today!
As a leader from our Mandela era Naidoo seems to want to stand up and be the conscience for what leaders originally fought for; to be a voice for those issues that we fall short on. He wants to make his voice heard.
To him leadership is about saying the unpopular thing that may even prejudice or penalize you.
Naidoo commented on the kind of leaders we have or need today. He shared his views on the platinum strike; that leaders must take responsibility; and much more.