In 1780, John Adams wrote, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy … in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music [and] architecture.”
The sense of progression of values in the quotation ought to resonate with most people. I wonder if we always appreciate the journey to get to this destination. It has been about 2,3 million years since Homo habilis looked at his bloodied knuckles and thought that there should be a better way to navigate the landscape. It took another 2 million years of shifting worldviews and genetic progression to get to Homo heidelbergensis out of which a 100KY later Homo sapiens (the Wise Ape) appeared and another 100KY for Modern Man (Homo sapiens sapiens) to appear. Here we are then, all 6 billion of us, 2,3MY later sharing a pool of 30 000 genes and one world. From a socioeconomic point of view we, in fact, can detect four worlds, ordered by economic value from first to fourth. The gap between first and fourth is so big, showing deterioration of such disastrous magnitude for the planet and humanity that we had to formulate a plan called the Millennium Development Goals in an effort to correct the consequences of our 2,3MY of occupying this planet.
For us in Africa to get to a sustainable John Adam’s world a number of things need to change (of which our worldview is crucial) and massive lower levels of needs are to be satisfied. Where to begin? The good news is there is no panacea, no silver bullet. If we view Africa as a system with multiple variables, there has been a suggestion that we seek a variable that (if we focus our limited resources on it) we may render the highest return for all stakeholders. My suggestion in this article is that we choose, out of the many variables, to leverage the values of managers and leaders, and to structure the role of schools of management to influence these values. I need to take a step back to clarify this statement.
Our society is organised into three large social landscapes, viz. the public sector, the private or business sector, and what is called civil society. As indicated in previous articles the interdependency of these three landscapes is essential and we need to leverage that interdependency for us to turn Africa’s resources into sustainable results for all her people. The requirement is clear: we need sustainable economic growth and sustainable social development in Africa. So it is vitally important to build capacity, and here I mean a particular capacity of a critical mass of leadership minds with a new and different worldview and with very different underpinning values. This may very well be the bridge between the conceptual reality of sustainable development and the practical reality where Africa’s people actually can live in that sustainable context.
So, why this choice of, or emphasis on, values? The three mentioned social landscapes are populated with leaders and managers that make decisions and choices on a daily basis that not only influence our world, but also shape and reshape it. It is therefore crucial that their values signify the ideals we hold for a sustainable world. Values underpin our beliefs and our engagement: they guide us in selecting our behaviours, the company we keep, the interventions we design and create; and – in the end – our values indicate the desirable end-states we want. Consider the recent World Competiveness Report and see how the African countries are faring regarding institutional life. These are the vehicles our leaders and managers are using to shape the landscapes. It is rather insightful.
When a school of management, like ours, uses its convening power and brings these leaders together in a space of learning it is imperative that we ensure representation from all three landscapes. Although representatives arrive with their worldviews and moral compasses already set, we have an obligation to structure and process learning experiences which assess, challenge and influence these worldviews. This ought not to happen on the level of exchanging one value set for another, but it ought to happen in a heuristic learning fashion where the emphasis is less on content and much more balanced with process.
We may need to heed Peter Drucker’s words: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. To which I would like to add: or with yesterday’s worldview and underpinning beliefs and values. Management and leadership development is one of those high leverage points in a system that, when applied properly, can have a tremendous effect on the system as a whole.