This article is a collection of thoughts from a time in my life when I was in what I call the wilderness period which I happened to also share on micro blogging site, Twitter and Facebook social media platforms. Excuse the apparent editorial poetic justice taken, this was a “dream” broken into single thoughts congested into 140 characters at a time.
Its a call for a moment to pause and ponder. To stop and think hard about the South Africa of our dreams. A South Africa of Biko, of Hani and many other heroes that died for the country to become such, a colourful nation. Its a call for us to think hard. It is not a prophesy, neither is it an indication of political preference. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed “dreaming”.
As I pause (for now), I put it out there as an appeal to all proud South Africans in politics, civil society, education, health and business. That one day, the country will use its skills and talents for the betterment of its citizens regardless of political affiliation (read slates). Despite all its level of malfunction and misdirection at times, I still have a dream that one day this nation will rise to its founding creed (the freedom charter)
We all should ask ourselves: what would it take for South Africa’s young heart to start imagining and doing? For us to move away from polarization where everything is arranged according to race and or class. Where the system does not make rape something to be ashamed of but instead protecting the victims and harshly dealing with the criminals. Where well meaning men and women don’t spend time lamenting the sickness that has become our society. Where the men of our nation don’t rape their women and children and rather protect them.
In my dream, we (both public and private sectors) served a nation with pride. We saw the opportunity to serve rather than an obligation. Unemployment was lowest in the world and history and the few unemployed were fed, educated and their health taken care of. We lived the ubuntu ethics of ancient Africa. No teenage pregnancies and no abortion laws…there was no need.
In my beautiful native land we had the most sophisticated medical facilities with cancer, TB and infant mortality the lowest in the world. Under Madam Prez no woman worked worked in fear of being raped, no child knew abuse and anyone who dared to dream could thrive without fear of political favour.
South Africa’s president, Mama Prez as we affectionately called her as, epitomized integrity, statesmanship, and the true spirit of ubuntu.When my president spoke, the world stopped and took note…for she was the mouthpiece of the world and represented well.
As often mentioned, I am firm a believer in leadership being a state of being rather than what we do. In other words who we are comes before what we do. It is in the moments when the formal power layers have been taken off that we see the real person. Sometimes the titles we are formally given make us not be who we are and thus rob the world of an opportunity to experience the greatness we are.
One thing I have come to appreciate is that leadership begins with the heart. A heart that is consistent in allowing the leader to live steadily while moving among the team. A heart that is contrite enough to allow humility and willingness to show humanity regardless of who witnesses it. A type of heart that is courageous enough to chart the right path without shrinking from doing the right thing.
A leader should be able to communicate his/her convictions regardless of what the implications. We have many great examples of those who led with conviction (our very own Madiba, Ghandi, Marcus Garvey, Patrice Lumumba, Martin Luther King and others are often referred to in this context).
They are committed to a course regardless of how unpopular that may be. And finally they are totally captivated by what they believe in so much so that it matters not if that survives them (being ready to die for an idea that will live than live for an idea that will die).
If we accept that the art of leading others is about them rather than us, therefore it follows that leadership also means we lose our right to be selfish. When we abandon our highest priority, we lose our way and people suffer. As such those of us that are entrusted with the custody of the leadership office need to always:
• Consider our actions and take care to avoid contradiction with the vision we champion
• That we work smart to ensure results in key areas of business
• Spend funds wisely and in areas that bring the best return
• Always feel dissatisfied in our production and thereby constantly challenge ourselves to do better
When leaders and people fail to maintain proper priorities, disappointment always results. Remember the paretto principle which says 80% of all output come from 20% of input. With the right priorities, 20% of our efforts will get 80% of the desired results. But with the wrong priorities, 80% of our effort will get 20% of the desired results. Priorities in leading people is not about working harder, but smarter.
Culture in the context of an organisation should be understood in the perspective of the setting it's in. In order to understand organisational context, it's important to see the organisations as communities. Using classical sociology as basis, there are two key cultural relationships in communities:sociability and solidarity. Sociability refers to effective relations between individuals who are likely to see each other's friends. They share ideas and values and associate with each other on equal terms. This represents relationships valued for their own sake. No real conditions are attached.
Solidarity on the other hand, describes task focused cooperation between individuals and groups. It does not depend on close friendship or even personal acquaintance nor does it needs to be continuous. A perception of shared interest is enough to spark it which once in place solidarity can produce high levels of focus. To bring this home, if we were to ask someone to describe their ideal family, their would typically go straight to one where members like and love one another (sociability) and one that pulls together when times get tough (solidarity).
Thus, where there is high levels of sociability with low solidarity we find highly networked cultures. Most organizations fall into this category hence exhibiting such negative manifestations as clique formation, informal information exchanges that generally degenerate into dangerous rumour and gossip machines; friendly meetings that produce of talk but little action; and most importantly, considerable energy, especially among senior managers, that goes into organizational politics and making the right impression. There is more often than not managing upward rather than managing outcomes.
Most of us know or have read about these symptoms. Seeming perfect is the holy grail, with leaders seeking that out of their people which constantly makes people strive to impress the boss regardless of the consequences to individual relationships or team dynamics.
It is crucial for organisations to seek to have Hugh levels of solidarity and sociability. This keeps the team focused on common purpose while relating on a high trust basis.
This makes the task of leading people quite risky as we can never really tell how we are perceived by others and therefore in a manner of speaking, “putting ourselves out there” could be in actual fact providing evidence that we cannot be trusted. For instance, a politician goes on a podium and declares that they care nothing about themselves, and all they do (including running for office) is driven by a deep sense of care for the people (something we hear all the time). They maybe saying that with the hope that they are convincing beyond shadow of a doubt. Furthermore, they maybe also hope that the audience does not include individuals who know facts that prove to the contrary.
No matter how upright a leader may strive to live their life, if they are genuine, there will always be self conscious: “did anyone see me last night?” “Does anyone in this audience recognize me from university days?” “Did people really believe that I meant everything I said?” “Will they support this new direction given the track record of the leadership team?” This constant struggle on the inside is the harsh reality that most leaders have to live with everyday: And so the wondering continues, day after day.
Beyond managing people’s perceptions, leaders (and people generally) often struggle with themselves as they attempt to manage what’s inside (thoughts, values, believes) against what’s coming out (words and deeds). Sometimes the internal world of thoughts is just not palatable for general consumption. This is because often what we think is uninhibited and uncensored as “no one will know”. Being ourselves in deed and in word, unleashing the inner voice will often times compromise us publicly. In other words, in our constant struggle for self preservation and being truthful, we justify the discord that results between who we are and who we say (and or act) we are. If we are to go with Gandhi ‘s line of thought in one of his most referred to sayings, “happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony” then most leaders (and indeed people) are not happy with their lot in life.
We do however; know that most great leaders were regarded as such because of the courage they displayed in standing for their convictions. So we go on admirably quoting and attempting to walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and so forth often without due regard for the risks they took in standing for what society frowned upon. It is the clarity and complete mental resolute to stand by their convictions that made it easy for those in power to single them out and at times not only threaten their physical safety but often negotiate them out of their convictions.
Leadership therefore is about taking risks, by making oneself available for public scrutiny, assessment of congruence between who we say we are and who we really are. Those who choose to lead with deep understanding and appreciation of this perilous reality; knowing that leadership is never about the leader, but those they lead, are a rare breed indeed and society will continue to build monuments around their persons. What will society say about you when all is said and done?