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What type of leadership is required for the 21st century in Africa


I want to talk primarily about leadership. Everybody is interested in leadership, but what type of leadership is required for the 21st century in Africa? For me, the fundamental question related to leadership has changed from:  Who am I as a future leader, to: What type of a future leader does the world need me to be? This outward focus on the world and the context we live in is very relevant if we want to see a shift from the current self-centric and egotistic approach that is still so dominant in the behaviour of many of the current leadership cadre.

The reality is that globally the leadership scorecard or general rating of leaders is not good. Here are the results from two recent surveys on leadership: 

  • The 2008 Gallup poll on honesty and ethics indicates that workers rate only 12% of business executives as having high/very high integrity – an all-time low. The same Gallup survey finds that 37% of the respondents rate executives low/very low on integrity.
  • The 2009 survey by Management Today found that 31% of respondents had low or no trust in their management team.
This is a repeating pattern where people indicate that they are losing faith in their leaders. So the question is: How do we restore confidence in leaders and their practices?

To take up a new leadership responsibility and deliberately to change the past patterns associated with leadership, you have to face and make a few fundamental choices. We become the result of the choices we make and what we choose to execute and implement in our daily personal and work life.  We do not have to be prisoners of our past – we can choose to be different. My parents and their parents did not go to university; I had to choose to follow a different path from theirs.

The next question on leadership is: Did I consciously choose to be a leader? This is a fundamental question you have to answer for yourself. It is important because we need to make leadership not just an additional task in our ‘inbox’, where we separate our leadership role from our other life roles as a family member, a work team member, a community member, a citizen of a country and a consumer in the world. Leadership is not just another add on to our already busy lives. 

Leadership is who we are and how we present ourselves as a gift to the world – it fuels our thoughts all the time on HOW we do things. This means that leadership is a present reality all the time in our life and shows up in everything we do. Making a choice to be a leader in everything we do, in every situation we encounter, opens up the possibility of leaders everywhere and anywhere. This represents an abundance approach to leadership where we accept that everyone can be a leader and can lead from anywhere at any time – but we need to make that conscious switch and choice to be the leader we need to be for the world and context we live in. 

If you as our hope for the future, as a new leader, do not take up this new leadership challenge and mandate – who else will?  I know you are well trained for this new leadership role. The question is: How do we raise the bar on leadership practices to build confidence and integrity in what leaders do? Raising the moral departure points would be a step in the right direction to live the following leadership practices (adapted from ideas of Mahatma Gandhi – the great Indian leader):
  • Practice politics based on principles and not self-interest, 
  • Create wealth through hard work and not ‘get-rich-quick schemes’, 
  • Experience pleasure always with a consciousness of those less privileged than oneself, and 
  • Appy:
    • Knowledge with character, 
    • Commerce with morality, 
    • Science with humanity, and 
    • Worship with sacrifice.
Leadership always happens in a context where there are boundaries such as laws, institutional practices and shared values that define acceptable behaviour. In a constitutional democracy it is the constitution of the country and the judicial system that impose our limits. In organisations it is the shared organisational values and corporate governance policies and practices. These are the moral boundaries that leaders need to respect. If this does not happen, leadership quickly degenerates into dictatorship, tyranny and authoritarianism.

The new leadership practices we need in the 21st century have the following features:
  • Leadership is not about our intent, but all about our effect on others. We know leaders are judged by their results, as well as how they were achieved and not their intent only.
  • Leadership is a capability to influence positively and impact on situations and people in order to make a difference in the circle of influence of the leader and his or her followers. 
  • Leaders exert their influence and power in such a way that they impact on the status quo as well as on other people in a positive way. 
  • Leadership is a team activity where mutual influencing between leaders and followers creates outcomes that no individual could have achieved on his or her own. 
In conclusion:
We all have a choice to create hope for ourselves, our families, our organisations, our country and continent, as well as the world.  We create hope when we live as leaders who serve the best interests of others, who ask not only if it is profitable, but also if it is right; and when we see possibilities where others see only obstacles.  
We need leaders whose actions are principle-based and authentic, who will make a positive impact. We’re waiting for you to be that leader. Are you signing on to this challenge? 

Prof Marius Ungerer teaches Strategic Management on the MBA at the University of Stellenbosch Business School and was the guest speaker at the USB Executive Development Nambian certificate ceremony on 15 November 2012. This is an extract from his speech.
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