Are we, as leader-managers, sleepwalking towards disaster? I had this epiphany-like question emerging in my mind while listening to Trevor Manuel addressing a hall filled with leaders at the recent Die Burger and Kaapstad Sakekamer Business Leader of the Year event. He triggered this epiphany by referring to South Africa's presidential oath with an interesting twist: "This ought to be an oath taken by every citizen of this country".
It is worth quoting the oath here in an effort to answer the 'sleepwalking' question:
In the presence of everyone assembled here, and in full realisation of the high calling I assume as President of the Republic of South Africa, I, A.B., swear that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa, and will obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other law of the Republic; and I solemnly and sincerely promise that I will always—
- promote all that will advance the Republic, and oppose all that may harm it;
- protect and promote the rights of all South Africans;
- discharge my duties with all my strength and talents to the best of my knowledge and ability and true to the dictates of my conscience;
- do justice to all; and
- devote myself to the well-being of the Republic and all of its people.
So help me God.
If you read this with sincerity, pausing at the keywords underlined, it will feel like listening to big boulders rolling at the bottom of a river, allowing you to experience the gravitas of what is promised. Understanding the seriousness of this brief paragraph has the potential to awaken the 'sleepwalkers' in business, government and civil society. Langer (1992) offers an anti-dote: 'Mindfulness is a state of conscious awareness in which the individual is implicitly (or unreservedly) aware of the context and content of information (content of the presidential oath).
So, where is the praxis (bringing theory/philosophy and practice together)? How do we venture towards 'a country of presidents'? There is both despair and hope.
Herein lies the despair: In the absence of a critical mass of 'presidentially oathed' leader-managers, 'sleepwalking' (Heraclitus) continues, and so Homo sapiens (wise man) turns into Homo demens (mad man). Homo demens, the 'sleepwalker' is up to serious mischief:
- Public discourse presents the features of a mudslinging contest as it is devoid of sound political, sociological, philosophical and historical thought. The regurgitated rhetoric shows no sign of renewal.
- Business, societal and political leaders view themselves as gods and act as such, and the masses affirm these views with their 'sleepwalking', devoted only to their own well-being.
- The leader-manager's constitutional obligation to "heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human right" remains an absent marker in observing behaviour and impact.
- Injustices to women and children receive an elegant 16-day packaged deal.
- When 'strengths and talents' are bereft of conscience, the meaningful discharge of duties become compromised. Industries can collude to the detriment of the consumer. Government officials can connive to allocate lucrative contracts to friends and family. Church leaders may spread vacuous platitudes to leverage the tithes.
Herein lies the hope: if Homo sapiens steps up to the plate, the potential augurs significant metamorphoses, current and future:
- Should one replace 'President' with your position or role, whether CEO, director-general, mayor, director, community leader, rector, or whatever the position is, and pause at the bouldering words, a renewal of thought and behaviour is foretold.
- Competence and character meet in a state of fusion.
- The oath takes one beyond a job or a career; it makes one's contribution a vocation, a calling.
- Power is channelled towards becoming a moral giant instead of a reigning god. The celebrity culture is challenged.
- The full understanding and acceptance of the oath as basis for one's conduct makes one realise it cannot be lived without courage. In that perceptive moment, one's maturity as leader is confirmed and one relinquishes all childish giggling forever. The task ahead is greater than oneself.
- A 'presidential' choice motivates one to make choices and decisions fuelled by moral sentiments and conscience. Shaping an environment for the re-emergence of the human factor where one, as leader, offers one's people a place of shelter and a sense of safety. Where one, as follower, devotes oneself to understand what it takes to support one's 'awakened' leaders and commits to doing so.
- One may 'presidentially' act for the common good in one's company, political party, religious fraternity in a way to "improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person".
- Leaders of management and business schools revisit their curricula not only to produce little industry soldiers, but presidents, for business, government and civil society. They use their convening power to awaken the 'sleepwalkers'.
It is only when we act 'presidentially', i.e. as the oath to greatness indicates, that we will use our freedom and responsibility to make a conscious decision to 'Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations'. On that the Constitution is clear.
So help me God.