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It's about us leaders


I love Robert Greenleaf's work on servant leadership.

Let me get that out of the way so that you don't have any doubt about where I stand on this leadership thing.

I was introduced to his work by Joseph Jaworski. Joseph mused with his father (special prosecutor for the Watergate scandal) how Richard Nixon, the President, the Main Man leading America, could be corrupt. How does this work he asked?

Today I live in South Africa where corruption is top of mind. Our future President is in court on corruption charges and I predict that Thabo Mbeki will be taken to task within the next two years on corruption charges. More than 100 members of parliament are accused of cooking the books on their travel claims to the tune of R36 million. I could go on...

So what do we do?

A typical South African evening revolves around too much beer or wine combined with strong, indignant complaints about how our politicians and leaders are wrecking the country. It's all about 'them'. If only 'they would do a better job' then things could be so much better. How can 'they' be so stupid.

I think differently.

It's not the leaders who we have to blame for where we are.

Leadership starts from within and there isn't a person I know of now or in history who hasn't, when they've decided to make a difference - made a difference. Funny that.

So what should we do about leadership?

Could we start with our own sphere of influence and become leaders that we would want to look up to?

Mahatma Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world". There couldn't be a truer word spoken by a person who lived every word of it. A simple lawyer found a way to bring the British Empire to its knees.

He didn't do it by complaining to friends and family how unfair things were.

The leadership in South Africa right now is just fine. It accurately reflects where we are as a country.

According to psychologist Erik H. Erikson, each individual passes through eight developmental stages or psychosocial stages (see Wikipedia entry ). While his theory is for individuals, it is remarkably true for our country if we examine our current situation.

Each stage in his theory is defined by a crises that needs to be overcome to move to the next stage.

Have a look at his entry for Adolescence (Ages 12 - 18) which is defined by the crises of Identity vs. Role Confusion. It's just 14 years since our first democratic elections making us 14 year old.

According to Erikson, 14 year olds ask the question "Who am I?" To successfully answer this question, Erikson suggests, the adolescent must integrate the healthy resolution of all earlier conflicts. Did we develop the basic sense of trust? Do we have a strong sense of independence, competence, and feel in control of our lives? Adolescents who have successfully dealt with earlier conflicts are ready for the "Identity Crisis", which is considered by Erikson as the single most significant conflict a person must face.

If the adolescent solves this conflict successfully, she will come out of this stage with a strong identity, and ready to plan for the future.

If not, the adolescent will sink into confusion, unable to make decisions and choices, especially about vocation and her role in life in general.

If I look at the series of crises playing out in our country, the question "Who am I?" seems perfectly apt.

South Africa. Who am I? What is my place in the world? Am I competent? I am truly independent? Am I in control?

Who is this new South Africa. What does it mean to really live in post- apartheid South Africa. Now that we've moved beyond the celebration of the birth, the excitement of some early achievements, we're now in the stage where the real growth and pain can happen simultaneously.

Like a marriage, the first years are bliss and every seven years or so some crises arrives to really challenge us. Coming out of the crises can be tremendous growth or it can be terminal. If we don't go into the crises, if we avoid it for some reason, then we miss out on the opportunity for growth and the risk of not continuing the relationship.

So it looks like our country is in one of the those at the moment.

Our collective psychosocial development stage is reflected by what we get when we melt all individuals together into one big pot - warts and all. So to focus on our leaders is only a small part of the issue. We need to start within our own spheres of influence and work at growing the influence we can have. This is more effective than sitting on the sidelines allowing ourselves to be impudent and lobbying stones at our collective leadership.

I believe when the changes start happening in our neighborhoods, our schools and our suburbs then change will ripple through the country. I've seen the results of neighborhoods pulling together and making a collective decision about what will be tolerated. Usually it's the result of a crises like a crime wave. Neighbours start speaking to each and make plans which were neglected before the crises.

The conference this week in Midrand entitled Action for a Safe South Africa was for me a strong step in the right direction. Not so much because of the issues they addressed - but more importantly in the tone of the output which had a strong focus on individual rather than political leadership. A great move from the usual rhetoric.

Attended by leaders from business and society including Roelf Meyer, Graca Machel, Cheryl Carolus and Cyril Ramaphosa and approximately three hundred people representing the business community, civil society and government, the conference could be the start of strong social movement.

Graca Machel commented: "This is the first movement I know that is focusing on safety and not crime. And there is a huge difference. If we are focused on crime, we can only be reactive to elements that are perpetrating crime. But if we are focused on safety, we are proactive and we develop profound, holistic, comprehensive, and more importantly, constructive ways of addressing our problems.

"This movement brings to the core that issues of safety are not only for police, or government and courts. But mostly for us and how we relate to each other, in our families, in our schools, in our communities and in our society."

At the end of the conference Roelf Meyer read out the Charter which summarised the outcome of the conference:

Over the past four days, Action for a Safe South Africa (AFSSA) has grown from being a collaborative effort of a small group of organisations to being an explosive, organic and dynamic coalition of individual and collective activists who share a vision of a safe South Africa.

Crime and violence has already caused untold hardship, disruption and loss of life in our country. It jeopardises the foundations of our Democracy and undermines the principles that formed the basis of our transition to Democracy as embodied in our Constitution. Millions of our citizens live in continuous fear as a result of the climate of crime and violence.

We recognise that the social and economic transformation of the country is not nearly complete and that South Africans are still suffering economic deprivation. Whilst the correction of the said imbalances should be a common objective, crime and violence remain obstacles in the way of rectifying the socio-economic climate essential for allowing a better life for all.

Fixing the Criminal Justice System (CJS) is obviously an important goal for any society, yet we realise that it alone will not make us a safe society and unless we significantly reduce the demand on the CJS it will never be able to deliver justice for all.

We recognise the need for a practical and an achievable vision of a safe South Africa - a vision that encapsulates an ideal safe society. We know that realising this ideal will be lengthy process and we commit to working innovatively, cleverly and with resilience to realise the capacity, funding and structures to achieve this.

We aim to enable every South African to contribute to making South Africa safe through sustained science-based, inclusive partnerships and actions. We will not duplicate nor compete with any other initiative with similar or complementary objectives. We will strengthen each other through co-operation and the development of a critical mass of those who respect the rule of law and work constructively to build a safe society.

We commit ourselves to the practical implementation of a plan comprising of the specific outcomes of this Convention as outlined during the report- back session, by representatives of the eight working groups. These plans will be articulated in a book produced with "South Africa - The Good News" and will be widely circulated to all those who so generously contributed over the last few days and to all those in South Africa who wish to participate and contribute in the future.

We have consulted and will continue to consult those whose contribution to this civil society initiative is essential. We mandate the organisers of this Convention to continue this consultation with those not represented at this Convention and in particular the Department of Social Development, the faith-based community, organised labour and other key sectors.

We ask the organisers to ensure that the required mechanism and capacity are in place to implement the plans we have developed, to secure the necessary funding and to report in writing to us and by reconvening an expanded Leadership Forum within a period of 75 days from this Convention.

I could end by saying 'Let's hope this makes a difference' but that would be in the same mold as the wine induced winging about our leadership. We'll know if changes are afoot when we wake up in the morning and see change in the mirror. Imagine that?