When I was asked to write about #MyFavouriteLeader, my mind could not help but be drawn back to my country, South Africa in the 1990s and the leaders involved in ending apartheid. Not just the globally recognized figures such as Nelson Mandela, but all the leaders in society who were working to bring about change.
The events of history were not inevitable. It was a change which was made possible through leadership and, in my opinion, I come from a country that has had some of the greatest leaders; leaders who have changed the course and direction of this country forever. They were leaders who could resonate because of their courage, passion, caution and vision. Their source of power was their values and principles of truth, respect, and support from the people. They played a different role every time the need arose. What’s more, they were extremely culturally intelligent - pure interest in people.
These leaders drew power by bringing people together; they moved from one place to the next and adapted to new environments because they were able to resonate with people. This meant they could build coalitions and partnerships. They could listen, challenge and be challenged. They understood the leader they needed to be at a given time according to the task at hand. They were able to delegate and take a backseat without getting disappointed that they were not needed to lead from the front and take on all the challenges themselves, because they understood that it was not about them.
They were humble, selfless, and extremely insightful. They didn’t give up in the face of ever-mounting challenges. They moved, adjusted and eventually mastered sufficient resources and money to expand the operation.
Most of all I think they were great leaders because they were humans - they never mistook the word ‘leader’ for ‘hero’.
For me, leadership is not about positional power, popularity, or even always being right. It is about humility in your truth, being able to say ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t, admitting when you have made a mistake, and when you are scared. It’s not about the respect you do or don’t deserve because of the role you played, it’s about the opportunity to appreciate, learn and contribute to something bigger, in whatever big or small way.
In my view “Leadership” will always be in contest. On the one side there are those who might be loud and charismatic. But on the other side there are leaders who work just as hard (sometimes harder) and are quiet in their achievements. I believe they are loud in another way; in the results of their labour. In the case of South Africa, their legacy is deafening.
Rose Shabalala is Senior Programme Manager for Common Purpose South Africa
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