Leadership 101 – What Is Leadership?

Corporate boardrooms. Legislatures. Non-Governmental Organizations. Homes. Communities. You.


None of these entities can thrive without leadership. I think that each aware human being, if pressed, can count the costs of poor leadership on any of these fronts. Leadership acumen has become such a topical issue in our open, technology-driven societies where poor leadership and its impacts are keenly and speedily felt and visible for all to see. Leadership academies, leadership coaches, leadership magazines, leadership journals, leadership TV and radio talk shows are springing up everywhere in response to this dearth of leadership acumen. Much like “innovation”, the word “leadership” has become quite a buzzword because we all sense, as a society, after witnessing such spectacular leadership failures across the board, that we need good leadership. But it’s also become abundantly clear to some that traditional, titled leadership has somehow lulled the “untitled masses” into a false sense of security and a way of being that absolves them from taking responsibility and displaying leaderly ways. Authentic leadership springs from you, the person, then fans out around you to impact: your home, your community, your workplace and broader society.

One of the exciting things about being alive in 2018 is that truly, these are paradigm-shifting times that we’re living in. Everything is up for real, up-close-and-personal re-examining and re-imagining. The opportunities for transformation are palpable and make me giddy with excitement. The notion of “leadership” IS in fact one of those critical components on which the future transformation of society will rest upon.
The reason why the “untitled masses” have become victims of poor leadership, decade after decade, century after century, is because social institutions brainwashed people into believing that leadership was the preserve of a few chosen special people with magic powers and that all one had to do was to keep their head down, obey the rules and “things” would get taken care of by those who knew best. Buying into this false, monolithic view of leadership has seen societies literally sleepwalk through life and leaving important decisions (the details and the devil therein) to people that truth be told, we hardly even know!

What has become abundantly clear to me is that in re-examining and re-imagining these systems, one of the first things that we need to do is to take the responsibility to lead from within first and strive to do so as impeccably as possible. It takes commitment and practice and it’s a lifetime thing. Self-leadership entails perceiving yourself a certain way, which then influences the general patterns of your thoughts, beliefs, utterances and displays of behaviour. Real leadership therefore springs from a very deep and authentic place. What we see in boardrooms, on the front pages of newspapers, in legislatures etc, is a reflection of the quality of self-perception of the human beings involved which logically permeates the systems that they lead.

As one of my recent interviewees, Robert Glazer, Founder and CEO of US-based company, Acceleration Partners, stated, authentic leadership starts with every individual knowing WHY they exist and having a core purpose to live out in their lives. Whether your core purpose will end up impacting 20 or 20 000 or 200 million human beings is quite beside the point. YOU matter. WHY you are here matters. The Why-Do-I-Exist work that needs to be done by every human being is not a nice-to-have and must be done because the world is missing out on your unique contribution.

The best way to display leadership therefore is to make a contribution that enhances the lives of your fellow human beings. This may be through art, culinary delights, entertainment, sports, policy formulation and implementation, thinking (yes, thinkers have made magnificent contributions throughout human history), technology, the list is literally endless! HOW you deliver your contribution is also another way to display leadership. It is not often that once people know deeply why they exist they’ll foster habits that promote mediocre, half-hearted delivery. It is virtually impossible because once your WHY is crystal clear, you’ll be energized till you depart this earth (not necessarily all-day-every-day but you’ll make most days count and you’ll do it with a deep sense of mission and purpose).

We now live in an age where each voice deserves to be heard and where decisions are arrived at collaboratively. Those in traditional, titled, leadership roles are essentially there to implement decisions that have the input of all affected by them. Leaders are not robots and are expected to exercise good judgment and be nimble in the process.

One of the most forward-thinking innovators, when it came to displaying self and collective leadership, was born in 1720 and was instrumental in the founding of the Basotho nation. Chief Mohlomi, the founder of an acclaimed Leadership Academy, was the mentor of many, including the esteemed Founder of the Basotho nation, King Moshoeshoe I. Chief Mohlomi held many titles: medicine man, chief, philosopher, philanthropist, seer etc and the more I delve into his rich legacy, the more I find precious nuggets of wisdom and foresight. Unlike previous rulers, he devolved most of his powers to his counsellors and ruled via collective, consensus-building mechanisms such as Khotla’s (the court) and Pitso’s (national fora where all participated). I was humbled to learn that Chief Mohlomi made it his mission in life to lead self and commit to that in tangible ways. For example, in his 40s he took up celibacy to “purify his soul”. Max du Preez, one of Chief Mohlomi’s most ardent biographers, describes him as an ascetic who walked throughout southern Africa and hardly ever ate and certainly not rich food. He was as fit as a fiddle and fed his soul and spirit with spiritual and philosophical discussions and practices. He disbanded all standing armies under his rule and instead told the retrenched warriors “to go and take up agriculture and be better husbands and fathers”. What primed Chief Mohlomi to be one of the greatest leaders in the world is that he conquered self first through concerted work and it was thus par for the course for him to view leadership and power differently than his peers.

So, here we are, in 2018, in Africa, on planet earth, and I am asking myself a few questions: where did this monolithic idea of a single ruler in whom all power vests come from? A ruler to whom total obedience and reverence are owed? A ruler who must just sommer be followed without question (or if you do have questions, careful now, don’t upset The Leader lest your fortunes turn sour quickly, so mumble somewhere in a corner quietly and quickly)? As if the so-called followers do not possess amazing gifts, talents, knowledge and expertise which can inform forward-thinking open discussions and shape solutions to some of the most vexing problems of our times?

We see this “just-followers” mentality play itself out in boardrooms across sectors, we see it in Cabinets, we see it in institutions of higher learning, we see it everywhere. And I am of the view that the status quo should be challenged, and new paradigms explored.

Source on Chief Mohlomi:

Max du Preez “The Socrates of Africa and his Student: A Model of Pre-Colonial African Leadership”