Recently, at the passing on of the world icon and legend, Nelson Mandela, there were lots of comments and opinions. Some enlightening, some less so. One of such, which was parroted by a lot of the commentators was that along the line: “Africa’s leaders should emulate the life and leadership style of Madiba.”
At face value, this statement rings true, especially in a continent where there have not been worthy leadership examples in public office- since that is more easily seen and commented on, compared to those in the private sector. However, after gaining more insight into the life and times of the man- through reading, films, documentaries and commentaries, I thought to have a different perspective or rather, to take examine the statement in closer fashion. The outcome of my reflections are shared herewith:
First, there is a general desire amongst people, Africans particularly, for good leadership, accountability and good governance- irrespective of the ways in which they are expressed directly, verbally, in writing, on social media and general everyday conversations. It seems to me that the expectation is that some “other people” are expected to bring this about and not the individual having the aforementioned desire. As I thought about this, Leo Tolstoy’s often-quoted statement came to mind. From the full quotation- “There can be only one permanent revolution- a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place?
Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity [the world], and nobody thinks of changing himself.”
For the desired change to happen and be sustainable, leadership of oneself will have to be given priority. I must be able to look in the mirror, accept that I am part of the problem and decide to change my ways first before expecting others- ‘leaders’ or otherwise, to change. It is not good enough excuse to say that because other people are behaving badly, that gives me the green light to also engage in wrongful behaviour. As Mahatma Ghandi put it: “You be the change YOU want to see in the world.” When I begin to take responsibility for my actions and in-actions, I begin the process of accountability in my immediate surroundings.
Today’s leadership demands requires first self-introspection and less of attention on expectation of others. After all, the only person I have the power and ability to change is myself. What I’m driving at is this: we need to stop the blame game; we need to stop the easy refrain of “our leaders should do this, our leaders should do that..” Please I appeal for you to understand my point clearly. I do not in any way suggest or imply that these bunch of less-inspiring likes pretending to be Africa’s political leaders do not need to be told to learn from shining examples like Nelson Mandela; neither do I suggest that they are doing the best that they could to uplift their respective societies. What I’m saying is that if as many as possible individuals decide to do the right things in their spaces, dare to be the light in the midst of a crooked generation, the chances of experiencing positive societal changes are far greater than just writing or speaking about other people that we expect to make the change, and overlook our very important roles as individuals in all of it.
Nelson Mandela was not a public or government official when he took the decision to make a difference by challenging the minority white rule in his native South Africa. Interestingly, he was not even a member of a political party as at then. He was convinced to join the African National Congress (ANC) and he subsequently was part of those that formed the Youth League of the ANC in 1944. All these times, he was a relatively unknown individual who dialogued and formed relationships with like-minded young individuals like Anton Lembede, Walter Sisulu et al.
In our world today, a world that has come to embrace the social media phenomenon, a fresh approach is needed to bring about effective solutions. The solutions that worked in the past are not likely to fit or match the newer and dynamic challenges confronting our societies. Again, one is reminded of one of the famous quotes of Albert Einstein: “the significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were when we created them.”
The ideas, creativity and actions taken by the ANC, its youth League and Umkonto We Sizwe (MK) (its military wing) between 1944 and 1960 when the ANC was banned responded to the needs of the moment. MK was formed in 1961, as a change in tactics from non-violence to violent struggle in response to the unprovoked attack by the Apartheid police on peaceful protesters in Sharpeville, in 1960. Nelson Mandela was its first leader. Yes, same Nelson Mandela who later gave us the examples in forgiveness, tolerance, perseverance et al. only became popular during the Rivonia trial of 1964 after making his landmark speech- declaring that he was prepared to die, if needs be, for his pursuit of freedom. Between 1944 and 1964, he was constantly exploring new ways of bringing solution to the challenges of his time- without holding any government or public office. His magnanimity to forgive his jailers happened after twenty seven years of imprisonment. Thereafter serving one term of five years as president. To focus only on his later years in public domain would not do justice to his foundational values, principles and commitment to being of service to others. Nelson Mandela took on self-responsibility before becoming the leader of others. So also must you and I.
Similarly, we know the story of young school children, in Soweto, South Africa in June 1976 that decided to protest against their being taught in the language of the oppressor, Afrikaans. Part of the resultant effect is the dismantling of the evil regime of apartheid. These are examples of new and responsive thinking at bringing solutions to the problems of their days. These were regular, ordinary citizens playing their parts believing that their seemingly little contributions would make a difference- and they did!
So, the challenge is to have a different perspective on the concept of leadership from what we’ve conditioned ourselves to accept. We need a different mind-set that lays emphasis on what I can do. Enough of asking and expecting others to make things happen. Let us begin with ourselves- individually leading ourselves and providing selfless leadership in our respective little corners.
Toye Abioye. March 2014
Toye is an accredited facilitator of FranklinCovey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and its derivative The 7 Habits of Highly Effective College Students.