The year 1994 was the year of the political miracle in our country. We were the darlings and envy of the world because of our peaceful transition to a democratic dispensation, aspiring to give everyone a fair place under the sun. Our new Constitution was celebrated as the most progressive in the world, exemplary of what countries in the world should strive for. We were the rainbow nation of hope, optimism and inclusivity.
It is undeniable that good progress has been made by our country in critical areas such as the provision of basic services, welfare, representivity, and wealth redistribution. However, our political miracle is under a real threat. The miracle appears to be in tatters. Unemployment, crime, poverty, corruption, fraud and self-enrichment are on the increase; there is a significantly widening income gap; a deteriorating infrastructure; a struggling economy; ineffective and inefficient parastatals and public service; growing racial tensions; and xenophobic attacks that are ripping through the very fibre of our society. Our beautiful country with its vast potential, resources, riches and opportunities are by all accounts, and on many measures, underachieving. We are divided, fragmented, directionless and rudderless as communities and a society. In many quarters, a spirit of disillusionment, pessimism, anger, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, and despair is besetting our thinking, talking and actions.
Why the growing disbelief in our political miracle, our underachievement and our debilitating spirit? Can the above depressing trends, poor achievement and negative climate not be attributed to the depletion and erosion of leadership capital across our country, in our organisations and communities; to the steady fall in the quality and quantity of our currently available leadership capital, to too little leadership capital being nurtured and available relative to the challenges, issues and problems we face? Leadership is the essential means for actualising desirable futures for organisations, communities and society; for taking charge of one’s future and destiny by becoming proactive architects of the future one desires.
I would like to contend that as a country we are suffering from a too low level of leadership capital. We have a pressing need for a leadership miracle to restore our country’s leadership capital to the required levels. Such a miracle would not only restore and re-instate our political miracle to its former glory, but even more so, would also bring about the much needed, people, economic and socio-cultural miracles. Our leadership miracle must again give us the light for our country. (Listen to Prof Theo Veldsman and Adriaan Groenewald on Leadership Platform as they discuss this Leadership Miracle)
A miracle (from the French: ‘to wonder at’) is something outside of the ordinary, the extraordinary.
It is about unexpected happenings, events and achievements beyond all logical, rational expectations and predictions. It is about the simply amazing, invoking a sense of unbounded wonder. So what is this leadership miracle all about? I believe that the essence of our much needed leadership miracle is to be found in having more leaders in more places and at more times. Leaders who discover and actualise desired futures for their teams, organisations, communities and our society and, in the process, not only doing what they are supposed to do outstandingly well, but also going beyond their normal call of duty. An abundance of leaders who make the extraordinary an everyday occurrence in multiple, mind boggling, simply amazing ways in many more places.
The purpose of my article is to share some thoughts about how to boost our leadership capital significantly in order to bring about a much needed leadership miracle in our beautiful country. And, in this way make amazing things – wonders – happen to the benefit of the future of our country. So what are the ingredients and chemistry of our much needed leadership miracle?
Everyone seeing her-/himself as a leader
For our leadership capital to grow and our leadership miracle to happen, first and foremost, each and every one in our country must come to realise that she/he can and must be an excellent leader, not only within her/his formally designated sphere of influence and action, but also far beyond into the furthest reaches of our communities and society wherever there is an imperative to make a difference. Also, realising how our sphere of influence and action reach has been vastly expanded beyond our physical locality by the enabling, immense power of the social media in addressing unmet needs. One only has to think about the Arab Spring or the Hong Kong pro-democratic protests, enabled by the social media.
Each one must accept in their heart of hearts that leadership is not the responsibility of the ‘Other’. Or, the ‘delegated’ responsibility of only formally appointed leaders, in this way quietly abdicating one’s leadership responsibility by ‘outsourcing’ leadership to other persons and institutions.
Our leadership miracle requires a commitment by all of us, of becoming and being a leader. The future is too important to entrust it solely to someone else.
More than that: one should demand from everyone else also to be leaders in their respective spheres and beyond – not spectators who are watching the game from the grand stand: ‘It is not my concern and/or responsibility’. Each one is to be an active player on the field. Imagine if 80% plus of our population of about 56 million become leaders. What a powerful country we will be!
Discovering a worthy cause to pursue
Having committed oneself to being a leader, regardless of one’s formal position and status, our leadership miracle next demands that each of us has to discover and take ownership of a worthy cause. This cause can be in our immediate formally designated spheres of influence and action, but additionally a cause beyond our normal call of duty. If successfully addressed, the cause will leave behind a lasting, value-adding legacy. Put differently, the unwavering conviction to a dream that will make a real difference where it matters in our country, now and in the future. Our worthy cause must be related to an unmet need in our country.
To be a true leadership miracle, this cause must be beyond oneself, and be in service of a greater, common good. Something amazing. This may imply a high likelihood of making real and painful personal sacrifices in pursuit of the adopted cause.
This worthy cause – representing an unmet need – can be found in the ‘More’, the ‘Less’ and/or in the ‘No-thing’. The ‘More’ encompasses making the good even better. The ‘Less’ entails engaging with the displaced, downtrodden, voiceless, exploited, abused, powerless, damaged, unfulfilled, excluded, disempowered and disabled, whoever they are, to improve their lot. The ‘No-thing’, relates to discovering that which has not been imagined yet, and turning that into a reality; surfacing and realising undiscovered opportunities, needs and wants; and making the impossible possible. The intended impact of a cause, having satisfied the need it represents, would be to make things easier, better, more meaningful, more right, more caring and/or providing a greater sense of fulfilment for the parties concerned.
A cause must not only, and predominantly, be about earth-shattering, big things. No, for our leadership miracle to happen truly, it must rather be about millions of small causes pursued by a multitude of leaders at many levels and in many places, having synergistic, multiplier effects beyond our wildest dream, like the proverbial pebble (in this case, many pebbles!) thrown in the pool, causing ever widening ripples (really in our case a tsunami!). Seemingly small things can have such great impacts if done simultaneously. A case in point: a significant number of menstruating girls in township schools are absent for about a week each month from school because they are too poor to afford tampons. Or, taking ownership of the poorly maintained park in one’s neighbourhood by keeping it tidy and attractive. Or, picking up litter. As Goethe has said so aptly, and I paraphrase: by sweeping in front of your own house, you are keeping the village clean.
Yes, of course, also bigger causes perhaps closer to home, to one’s normal sphere of influence and action, e.g. Doctors without Borders; using the logistic capability of one’s organisation to transport food abundant in one area to a needy area; repairing potholes in the immediate vicinity of one’s organisation’s premises; providing skills and expertise to maintain the town’s/village’s water purification plant; or, by making the organisation’s expertise available to build skills in the communities where one’s organisation is active. Yes, turning one’s organisation into a truly triple bottom-line organisation of people, profit and planet.
One’s adopted cause must be embraced with a burning passion; be matched to one’s strengths, energy, available resources and time; fit one’s sphere of influence and action, however, be (re)defined and extended through the Internet and social media. And, though the envisioned legacy may be overwhelming in its daring at the outset, start in small achievable, humble chunks and steps, and then extend in reach and impact as more resources become available, and public support grows for the embraced cause.
Establishing an uncompromising moral base
In finding and pursuing ones worthy cause, one has to establish a defendable, ethical base that acts as a moral compass to direct and guide one’s journey: doing the right things, for the right reasons, in the right way. Metaphorically speaking, finding one’s inner music by which to dance. Then, and then only, will our leadership miracle be infused by integrity. This would prevent one, or at least minimise the risk, of succumbing opportunistically to events, persons and circumstances. Or, being overcome by a zeitgeist prescribing a certain way of thinking and doing things: ‘This is the accepted way of doing things’; or: ‘We have always done things this way’.
Only in this way, can and must one act as the conscience of one’s team, organisation, community and society.
Moral leadership, therefore, is a non-negotiable in the pursuit of one’s cause, centring on an unmet need.
Paradoxically, one’s cause frequently is discovered in establishing one’s moral base, especially with respect to the ‘Less’ space. Some of the critical, core values making up a defensible, moral base, providing a moral compass, are justice, equality, dignity, care, security and inclusivity.
Adopting a barrier busting attitude and style
For the leadership miracle to happen, the pursuit of the worthy cause needs the adoption of a barrier busting attitude and style to infuse all of one’s thinking, decisions and actions. A true, genuine, worthy cause – aimed at bringing about a lasting, value-adding legacy, now and going into the future – will need an attitude and style of enthusiasm, fearlessness, courage, tenacity, unflagging commitment, pro-activity, quiet confidence, optimism, inquisitiveness, creativity, innovation, questioning and challenging the status quo, and ‘can do’. Also an uncompromising drive to excellence: ‘Good is never good enough’. Yes, in pursuit of one’s cause, being a hustler; a rocker of the boat; a shaker of the tree; and a saboteur of the existing. But also having fun, and not taking oneself too seriously.
Why this attitude and style? Because in pursuit of a true, genuine, worthy cause, aimed at leaving behind a lasting, value-adding legacy by satisfying an unmet need, the unknown has to be discovered and explored; existing barriers have to be eliminated; current mind sets and paradigms have to be replaced by the previously unthinkable; the impossible has to be made possible; the unimaginable has to be imagined; and comfort zones have to be eroded, and even destroyed. This is why it is a leadership miracle: in its pursuit, the cause must bring about the amazing, the extraordinary.
Reaching out to, mobilising and engaging all stakeholders
If one’s cause is beyond oneself in service of a greater, common good, of necessity, it must be shared by and engage all stakeholders, whether in the crafting of the answer/solution; in its roll out; and ultimately by those who stand to benefit from the cause.
It must not be a cause for, but a cause with stakeholders.
This requires shared leadership across traditional boundaries, divisive silos and socio-cultural fault lines in order for all stakeholders to be engaged, and to be moving in the same direction. These stakeholders will have diverse needs and interests that have to be balanced in a fair and equitable manner in pursuit of the shared cause. Through the bridge building taking place, this sharing among ownership of and engagement by stakeholders will be an amazing manifestation of our leadership miracle in its own right. In this regard, social media can play a significant enabling role in extending one’s mobilisation, sharing and engagement reach.
Therefore one’s cause cannot represent a ‘Me’ agenda and language, being pursued in isolation from others. Instead, it must represent a ‘We’ agenda and language, embedded in a context made up of all stakeholders. Hence, the cause has to be inclusive and not exclusive; distributed and not elitist. Its pursuit is about all voices being heard; taking hands; making good music together; learning together; as well as shared successes and failures, joy and sadness. Stakeholder mobilisation, ownership and engagement will force leaders to be people-centric in an authentic, caring, diplomatic and graceful way. The chances of becoming an ego-centric fanatic as a leader, in the individualistic pursuit of a self-referential and -glorifying cause, would be slim.
Reaching out and engaging, furthermore, would necessitate seeing the big picture in a seamless way. Also, viewing the world as a dynamic, integrated, multi-dimensional and systemic whole in which my cause, which is now our cause and our answers/solutions to the cause, forms but a small part of the bigger whole. High stakeholder engagement would enhance the likelihood that many, if not most of the outcomes and impacts of the answers/solutions to be found and crafted, will and can be foreseen, and be dealt with pro-actively in cases where they may be unintentionally negative.
Finding and crafting future directed, imaginative answers/solutions
The worthy cause, focusing on an unfulfilled need, with its intended lasting, value-adding legacy, would necessitate future directed, imaginative answers/solutions, jointly arrived at by all stakeholders, if our leadership miracle is to happen truly and sustainably. Answers/solutions need to be morally justifiable, i.e. ethically grounded, and be richly infused by the barrier busting attitude and style described above. They have to address the true, hard reality of our country; not a make-believe reality. Hence, they have to be of substance, robust, fit-for-purpose, and not merely reflective of current fads and fashions, locally and globally.
In seeking and crafting answers/solutions, one must be careful not to be frozen and trapped in the past. Or, merely rehashing the past or extrapolating it into the future. As a leader, one aspires to realise a desired future in order to take charge of the destiny, in this case of our country. Therefore, a leader must bring the desired future, co-conceived with stakeholders, into the present by making the future the present, and the present past tense. This will demand the willingness to re-invent, re-create and experiment, because answers/solutions in all probability will need to be innovative and out-of-the-box, and therefore be unproven. This will require real-time learning, while taking actions; or turning experiences into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom, i.e. taking reflective action beyond everyday busyness. But also, co-learn and co-grow as stakeholders with respect to answers/solutions: not to have a fish for one day only but being able to fish for oneself in the future.
The answers/solutions will also have to be scalable in reach and impact to accommodate a potential snowballing growth in the magnitude of the cause, rippling across our country. Also, to be adaptable in order to accommodate possible changes in circumstances, conditions and needs.
Being a visible, inspirational role model
It is imperative for our leadership miracle to happen that in one’s role as the crusader of a worthy cause that will assure and insure a positive destiny for our country – whether in a small or a big way – one becomes the primary, living example of the change one wants to see and bring about. One’s talking and walking as a leader need to seamlessly correspond, if one is to have any legitimacy and credibility. One can only be seen and experienced as trustworthy if one’s thinking, decisions and actions are consistent with one’s moral convictions: ‘I stand here, because I cannot do otherwise’. As has been stated above, this may require some real personal sacrifices in pursuit of the greater good, firmly grounding one’s cause.
In a humble way, one will have to create high public visibility for the worthy cause with its intended lasting, value-adding legacy, and its commensurate future directed, imaginative answers/solutions. In this way, leaders can be a catalyst and inspiration in the public domain for more persons to embrace a cause, able to change the future destiny of our country. Many dedicated, enthusiastic followers can also be created and maintained in this way.
By being a visible, inspirational role model, leaders can in word and deed prepare pro-actively the next generation of our country also to take up at an early stage in their lives a well-rounded, society- centric leadership role: ‘This is the way we do things in our country. Everyone is a leader’. In this way, our needed leadership miracle will infect like a rampant virus all of our communities and our total society into their very DNA in amazing, wonderful ways by making the extraordinary, ordinary. Why? Because everyone, young and old, will be a leader pursuing a worthy cause, aimed at leaving a lasting, value-adding legacy. The example comes to mind of a primary school kid on the East Rand that heard of the threat to our rhinos. Inquiring about what she could do to protect them, she was told that tracker dogs at R100 000 to R150 000 apiece were needed. To date, she has collected money for two dogs by making and selling sweets!
Spreading the good news, learnings and successes continuously
If our leadership miracle takes off in our country in millions of small ways, in a thousand places, on a continuous basis, by untold numbers of people from all walks of life who become awe-inspiring leaders, the good news with the associated successes has to be spread. The good news has to be in the face of everyone on an ongoing basis, locally and globally. As is said in virtual connectivity jargon: the good news has to be anywhere, anyhow, anytime to anyone. Hence, all of our leaders have to find innovative ways to spread the good news all of the time. Only in this way will we be able to counter the growing, debilitating negativity affecting our country because the good news would be maximised and would overpower and eliminate the negativity.
The good news will bring hope, inspiration, courage, resilience, faith and care. The abundance of good news will be overwhelming, and be a miracle in and of itself.
In this way, a cumulating and exponentially multiplier, positive effect, impossible to contain, will be triggered and will blossom. A beautiful spring will come to our country. We will become known as a good news country. A country that oozes infectious hope, optimism, energy, care and social justice in equal measure for all its inhabitants, regardless of status. The ‘More’ will have become even ‘Better’; the ‘Less’, ‘Nothing’; and the ‘No-thing’, a ‘Some-thing’. In this way, others will again learn from us. We will have re-established a firm moral base for our country. We will again stand proudly on the world stage, and be an inspiration to other countries.
Our country desperately needs a leadership miracle if we are to have a bright, exciting future for ourselves, and our country’s upcoming generations. This miracle is all about replenishing the leadership capital of our country. Amazing leadership is the only way in which we can actualise a desired future for our country and its people, now and going into the future.
I propose that the essence of our much needed leadership miracle is to be found in having more leaders in more places and at more times, who discover and actualise desired futures for their teams, organisations, communities and our society, not only in their immediate formally designated spheres of influence and action, but also beyond their normal call of duty – an abundance of leaders, who make the extraordinary an everyday occurrence in multiple, mind boggling, simply amazing ways in many more places.
I suggest that the ingredients and chemistry of our much needed leadership miracle are to be found in eight elements: everyone seeing her-/himself as a leader; discovering a worthy cause to pursue; establishing an uncompromising moral base; adopting a barrier busting attitude and style; reaching out to, mobilising and engaging all stakeholders; finding and crafting future directed, imaginative answers/solutions; being a visible, inspirational role model; and spreading the good news, learnings and successes anywhere, anyhow, anytime to anyone.
Are you willing to become a miracle-creating leader, whoever you are, wherever you are with whatever you have at your disposal, however little it may seem? Our country and its people need you. Do not look over your shoulder at someone else or point at someone else: You are the person to make the much needed, real and lasting difference. Be an amazing leader!
(Listen to Prof Theo Veldsman and Adriaan Groenewald on Leadership Platform as they discuss this Leadership Miracle)
Prof Theo Veldsman – University of Johannesburg