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Contemporary African Leadership by Dr Hendrik Cronje

2 Jun , 2016,
Hennie Cronje
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hennie“Youth are a valued possession of the nation. Without them there is no future. Their needs are immense and urgent” Nelson Mandela

1.  Leadership

 We define leadership broadly as actions taken to move (preferably without coercion) a person or persons towards a goal. This emphasises that to act as a leader, does not require authority or a formal position. It emphasises the fact that in societies, communities and organisations, change is often the result of people taking action who do not have formal authority, but who do so because of personal conviction. Unless a person is willing to act on the basis of personal conviction to influence others, it is difficult to see how he or she will become an effective leader.

It is emphasized that:

  • Leadership is a relationship between people and therefore has moral and ethical implications;
  • That leadership is an ongoing process, and not a position or event;
  • That leadership should be free of coercion.
2. Thinking about Leadership

 

Leadership is a function of the broader context within which it takes place, the person who acts as leader, the roles performed by the leader, and the nature of the collective within which the leader functions. But above all, leadership entails action, getting things done.

Context refers to the global, regional, national and cultural settings within which leadership takes place. These factors influence what leaders are required to do if they wish to lead effectively. In a global, regional and national context, we are living in a time of change and discontinuity. These conditions require leaders who can lead change, and help find innovative ways of addressing problems. It also requires leaders who can translate such innovative solutions into real results, as opposed to just talking and theorising about principles.

Leadership also takes place within a cultural context, and should build on the strengths of a culture and draw from it the energy for action. However, in changing times cultural practices and values cannot be adopted blindly. There is a need to examine them and the ways in which they can be applied in a changed world. Cultural factors are expressed in the ways in which individuals behave and interact with each other.

The leader brings to leadership his/her personal history of development, characteristics, abilities, assumptions, beliefs and values. Leadership is a reflection of these personal elements, some of which will enhance leadership performance, and others which will detract from it. Leaders must be aware of these characteristics in order to grow and develop as leaders. Without the willingness and openness to learning; and the acceptance of personal responsibility for his or her life and its contribution to the collective, a person is unlikely to be an effective leader.

The role of the leader can be conceptualised as consisting of a number of broad roles which, if performed effectively, contribute to effective collectives. Would-be leaders must be aware of these roles and what they require in terms of leadership action. While these roles are broadly similar depending on the nature of the collective being led, there are differences of emphasis and the relative emphasis on competencies.

The leadership we propagate in an African context can be described as “time competent, inclusive, innovative, value based and transformational”.

It requires leaders who have accepted personal responsibility for their actions, with a commitment to the collectives they serve, and who cultivate the personal values and abilities that are needed for such leadership.

Time competence refers to the ability of the leader to deal effectively with the past, present and the future.  A leader without a persuasive account of the past and African communal roots, without an explanation of the present and the ability to invent a preferred future constructively is unlikely to be effective as a leader.  All leaders face the same problems, viz. who we are, how did we get here, where do we want to go, why should we go there and what do we need to do to get there. These remain pertinent questions.

Inclusive refers to our interdependency, Ubuntu, and the belief that I am because you are.  Inclusive collaboration, which goes beyond participation towards co-existence, is fundamental to our African rooted leadership.

The effective African leader looks for commitment from people, rather than compliance and relates to people in intuitive and empathetic ways.  Commitment is necessary if people are to use their initiative, and share responsibility for achieving the vision.  This leader depends on persuasion, on conceptualizing the desired future and is at ease with risk as opposed to the concern with predictability.  Cooperation, compassion, respect for the dignity of persons and communality in a virtuous society are important.

Innovation in a continuously evolving context creates much space for reconfiguration options.  The expanding knowledge base, both descriptive and normative, allows us to re-discover what it means to be African and to create new frames of reference for effective leadership.  Action is an important part of innovation, the other side of the same coin.  Leadership, therefore, implies action-based “learning” and a process of constructive discovery.

The Value base of leadership provides the motivation and much of the answers to the where to, why and how questions.  Leadership is mostly an expression of who we are.  Authentic leadership action is grounded in our value and belief systems and as such rooted in our African identity.  Both ethical/moral and competence values freely chosen and supported by our actions determine authenticity.

Transformational leadership emphasizes the future seeking/creating activities of leadership, which go beyond managerial/transactional behavior.  A greater awareness about issues of consequence in a mostly uncertain future is required.  This heightening of awareness requires a leader with vision, self-confidence and inner strength to argue successfully for what is seen to be right or good and not for what is popular or acceptable according to established wisdom of the time.

3.  Leadership and Leadership roles

 

Central to leadership is the person. “Who I am.” Our abilities, assumptions, values and beliefs, and our courage to live according to them, that is, to translate them into action, determine how effective we will be as leaders.

In order to perform the leadership role, the person needs interpersonal competencies and cognitive abilities. The interpersonal and cognitive abilities that a person acquires are influenced by the way he or she views or conceptualises the leadership role or roles.

It is useful to think of the role of the leader as consisting of four broad sub-roles, namely:

  • Providing direction. The emphasis is on the leader through inclusive participation developing a vision/mission to get the collective to adapt to the changes facing it. The ability to see the changes that an organisation, country, society or community will face, and acceptance of the responsibility to face up to it, is important.  The envisioned future must connect with the values and emotions of the collective.
  • Aligning the collective. The leader must ensure that practices, culture and values within the collective support the vision and mission, and not work against it.
  • Building a productive community. The leader has to tap into people’s talents and commitment in order to realize the vision/mission. This entails involving people in decision-making, promoting cooperation, and developing the competencies required to carry out the collective’s work.
  • Insisting on results. The leader must ensure that the collective translates the vision/mission into a virtuous Our deeds determine our destiny.
A Final word…

Our assumptions, beliefs and values about the world, that is our “mental models”, determine both how we see, feel, and think about ourselves, and consequently perform the leadership role.  Effective contemporary African leaders understand with their minds and their hearts that they are part of a “community of leaders” allowing space for contributions from others and celebrating the collective rather than individual successes.

The authentic leaders’ being, thinking and doing are simultaneously a part and the whole of our African existence.