Tag Archives: leadership

Our Common Goal

“Now it is our contention that true democracy can be established in South Africa and on the continent as a whole, only when white supremacy has been destroyed.”  –  Robert M Sobukwe (2010:23)

This call from the Seventies should still be our rallying cry today. Not to say we have not made radical progress, but the call to end white supremacy is still a helpful one. White supremacy, or so-called white supremacy looked different in the seventies where whites literally ran everything, had all and exclusive access and where black people were exploited and humiliated. White supremacy, or so-called white supremacy lingers on today, stubbornly in the minds of South Africans, both white and black. This is our joint disease that affects our national health. Back then the supremacy was justified by so-called biological differences, a nonsense that has been mostly debunked.

The two notions that still plague us are, the idea of cultural superiority and the idea that material wealth and education is linked to intrinsic qualities. You just need to look at a useless corrupt fat cat today, driving a Bentley and realise that theft buys fancy suits and expensive whiskey. It is not classy, it is material profanity built on theft. When the spoilt little kids of this fat cat goes to expensive private schools, how dare they look down on and make fun of struggling kids from hard-working honest parents?

In my description of an exploitative class in the paragraph above, did you imagine a white or a black person? The answer is very important. Whichever picture you had in your head, might point you to your blind spot, whereby you need to learn to see the other side.

Today, for someone living in a shack, notions of white supremacy are real when every day, you walk past a white family in a Prado, going on holiday, getting Christmas gifts, practicing public speaking, discussing books. White wealth is a legacy of white privilege which is a legacy of white oppression and exploitation. Privilege allows certain cultures to develop and flourish. Privilege allows certain cultures to be trampled on and deteriorate. This applies to ethnic cultures, but also the specific culture in a home or in a neighbourhood. Kids growing up surrounded by gangs, surrounded by rapes or violence, they grow up in a new culture. Hatred can infiltrate any culture and hurt can become a culture of rebellion. Culture is not about cutlery and clothing; it is about shared values. Shared values and ethics that put you on a productive and developmental path is a privilege.

Sobukwe speaks of the myth of race that is used to build a myth of cultural superiority linked to colour. Nobody can deny that in todays world certain cultural traits will help members of a clan and certain cultural traits will disadvantage members of a clan; any clan. I hold that our culture should serve us and we should not serve our culture. We live in radically changing times, our groups are not geographically isolated any longer and that which used to make a sub-grouping of humans stronger and safe can today make a sub grouping stupid and dangerous. We need to change.

Our most pressing challenge is that of moving away from race, moving away from ethnicity; towards a shared humanity. This is not contradictory, as long as the notions are prioritised. Sub cultures can be used in service of a unified culture. Tribes can use their tribal heritage to serve the common good. A practical example can be the coming together of Afrikaners in a church with the vision and calling to eradicate white supremacy. That will have two legs, one being the extension of opportunity to blacks and the other being the deconstruction of internal and habitual stupidities that perpetuate racism. A black man or women who becomes successful through excellence and goodness should be top priority and something whites cherish. It would be a privilege to be part of such stories.

A tricky question in the discussion on dismantling white supremacy is that of white suffering. In theory nobody should suffer. In reality, in an equal South Africa, white poverty has to grow. That will be normal and even healthy. Whites should live in shacks, as long as blacks are living in shacks. White people passionate about uplifting ‘their own’ in a context of exploitative racial oppression need to do very serious soul searching. Let blacks look after poor whites. We have a historical burden, we have restitution as prerequisite for reconciliation; or at least the two needs to be implemented in unison.

Whites and blacks need to go about dismantling so called white supremacy in two different ways. Im not going to be PC and Im not going to be rude, but every honest South African knows that blacks and whites have different nuances and narrative we need to voice and advocate in order for our country to be equal and free. Democracy is impossible without the dismantling of so-called white supremacy- it is our call in this day and age to fight towards this same, unifying goal.

It can only be achieved if we work together. Other countries have shown that it is not something that is automatically fixed over time. We need a concerted effort, a brave leadership and a sacrificial life-style in order to be counter cultural and show the world that indeed we belong firstly to a human race.

To give up, is to have failed.

To give up is to have caused the thing you were supposed to fight.

iKing

Humans are intrinsically made to rule. Dallas Willard reminds us that we all have our own kingdoms. The idea made me think more clearly about agency and development.

A kingdom is a place where you rule, where you decide and make things happen. We are all chiefs with chiefdoms, the only difference is that they differ in size and shape. This is not a debateable ideal, it is a plain and simple reality. Human beings rule and they have power, some more than others. This notion of exercising control and influence through power and agency links to Amartya Sen’s notion of development as the freedom to choose. When we do development, we use our kingdom, our resources, our power and our rule to enlarge the kingdom of someone else. Giving out soup or clothes assists and shows some compassion to subjects in the kingdoms of others, but it does not assist others to expand their kingdoms, their areas of rule and control. Development should be about increasing someone else’s power and that normally requires the diminution or at least the restraint of your own power, control and influence.

We confront the paradoxical illusion of cheap leadership. If leadership is defined as influence, there are a further two distinct levels of influence that has to be differentiated: First, the influence where you influence other to act and exert your power, your kingdom, your rule. Second, there is an influence of restraint, service and sacrifice that enhance and increase the leadership of others. Here lies the cruel joke: there is no leadership in itself, only the making of other leaders. Leadership is not influence, but the transfer of influence, power and control. The moment you start to ‘lead’, in the classical sense, you are not a leader! Influencing makes you a king or a manager. Leadership is the sacrificial process of giving up the spotlight, giving up control and using your power to extend someone else’s influence.

We are left with acts of leaderships rather than positions or persons called leaders. In acting out this transfer of influence, we need to discern and decide who we empower. Sometimes we settle for middle management: we give our power to a bigger king or chief so that under their rule we will be in charge of a section. We give more power to the already powerful, because we find safety in that system. Indeed it seems counter intuitive to give power and influence to someone who already has a big kingdom or area of control. If it comes to being super smart with massive fields of influence, there is no point in ‘leadership’ beyond self preservation. Building very large kingdoms or empires becomes a game of power and strategic control- leadership is lost. The domain of pure leadership will always intersect with the powerless and so called weak. Many people do not see themselves as influencers or leaders and it is there where we can show our leadership. It is not coincidental that the most famous historical figure with the best selling biography ever, always identifies with and hides amongst the ‘poor’. He started his kingdom by activating thousands of small kings and queens.

How? First by pouring love on them so they realize their inherent worth and capacity. What kind of love does that? Love that manifests through deep and constant respect. Respect is measured, not in what we do, but in how we make someone feel. Love respects and love gives access and attention. In this respect and attention, self-love and self-belief becomes activated, the king is born, the queen is awakened from her sleep. A leader is a king-maker. A leader is a queen-maker. One can be tempted to play along and make fat kings fatter, this is a short-cut to ensuring ‘results’ and outputs. Many go down that road. We can also choose a different level of engagement and enter the domain of unseen greatness where life’s harshness has kept magnificent rulers asleep for too long. Normal people are not normal at all. Once we fail to see the flame and potential in any human being we have lost some part of our own essence. Our leadership and influence, whether we like it or not, are linked to the influence of ‘the least of these’.

The start of your kingdom is your body. You are the governing force, the government of your body. You are the President of your body. Whatever you think or choose happens. You have full power over your body. That is why physical violence, punching, rape or even a hiding is so traumatic. Someone violates your primary kingdom, the small space where you are in charge. Hence, non-violence is not just about being nice, it is a strategy to ensure the integrity of the kingdom of self; protect your castle. This is why a poor teenage girl who gets pregnant is ‘fucked’ on so many levels. The body is the first ring of your kingdom, because it is easiest recognizable.

Inside your body lives your soul and mind. Your thoughts. Here it get’s tricky and sad. One is so tempted to say that your thoughts are actually the first domain of your rule, your thoughts are supposed to be the place where you are the governor. But powerful people and systems have unfortunately been robbing you of that reign for years. From the moment you wake up, you see and hear messages that are not accidental, they are voices and noises designed to penetrate your mind. Other kings and queens are sowing seeds in the fertile fields of your mind! I’m not just talking about advertising creating false needs in the sphere of brand association. Philosophical assumptions underlie the content of all the messaging that enters your ears and eyes. Worldviews are programmed into the DNA of your thoughts, even if you don’t know what a worldview is. Slavery is back baby. Slavery is back, invisible and cruel to the point where the majority of society sings up voluntarily. All for a dose of opium and the road of least resistance.

Will we ever learn to rule our own thoughts? Will we ever learn to decide what goes into our heads and how it comes out? Your kingdom will stay scattered and small if you cannot clarify and rule your own thoughts. Why have people been journaling through the ages? Because they like the sound of pen on paper? NO! People write their thoughts down as acts of dominion, as acts to understand and rule their own minds! The battle is for your thoughts. You need this shoe or that whiskey, this car or that house, you deserve this, you hate that… and so it continues. Many people will catch you by linking your apparent wants to their products- be it politics or products, but who cares for your long-term wellbeing?

We will get back to the war of thoughts and the struggle to be ruler, president of your own mind, who determines your own values, ideals and strategies. Let’s look briefly at the most common kingdom on earth. Billions have nailed it and the allure of a shortcut kingdom, the attraction of a ready made rule has been so pervasive that few have resisted. The thing that makes biological families so popular and successful is not the cuteness of the mini-me, the continuation of the species or the comfort of growing old together while grandkids bring presents. The biological family is so pervasive and universally endorsed because it offers ready made kingdoms. Here you can be king of your castle by right of what you did with your penis. Worldwide, no matter how useless, sick, uninformed, weak or evil, the little family or household has been offering undeserving men a release for their kingdom desire. Look at parenthood, the behavior of fathers and see how children are being harmed, how the beautiful flame of leadership and influence is killed early in the life o fa child by a fake governor who never learnt to rule himself, but now he has subjects: sometimes two, sometimes ten! The role of the wife as either fellow ruler or subject, I will leave for another day. Families are not bad in and of themselves. Indeed, the structure could be the most wonderful university for learning how to rule! The family could be the safe training ground where everyone experiments with their rule, their power and responsibility. In most cases it does not do the good and beautiful job. It provides an unhealthy escape for the dominion desire. The test is simple: look at your effective rule and influence outside of your family. Don’t look at your work where salaries set the agenda and relationships. Outside of work and home, explain the extent of your rule and influence. If you have a full picture of influence and assisting others to uncover their influence and rule, then your own family (where you were born and the one you made) probably did a good job through healthy dynamics.

At our core, each of us is either a protector or a leader. We design our lives to either manage and control or to explore and lead. Both spheres include influence, rule and power. The difference is that the one builds walls and fences and the other tears them down. Leaders are not bosses, but bridges. Reaching out or helping others should include traditional charity and sacrifice, but the sacrifice should be way more radical that we think. Instead of sharing an hour a week, sharing your food or even your clothes, you are called to share your power and influence. How? BY increasing the power and influence of someone who have become unaware that he or she were made to rule. People are made to rule, firstly their own lives and secondly to influence other people’s lives in a way that adds mutual value. A natural human tendency is to group in similar circles of likeness. The value of diversity is a key that unlocks a higher humanity where brotherhood transcends animal instinct. A brave leader reaches out to the ‘other’ and thereby grow and learn as he or she assists and shares. If you are smart you would have already realized that by expanding the freedoms of others, by making kings and queens you also expand your own rule and enlarge your own circle of influence. That is not the goal, but a Divine treat and irony- if done right side up.

As an after thought, which for some might be a pre-thought, it might be worth mentioning that the guy who made kingdom talk famous lived about 2015 years ago. That is a very long time ago and when you think for example what Europe went through in the last 300 years and what Africa went through the last 100 years, it is remarkable that a guy said such smart things so long ago. He articulated concepts hundreds of years before the frame of mind or philosophical and cultural contexts had words and references for such views. How weird, these days when something is 10 years old we throw it away. Reading books that are 100 -200 years old seems odd and they battle for relevance. Yet, some guy’s words slap us in the face, grab our hearts and lead us- 2000 years after they were spoken and written.

Can he set me free?

Can I be included in his rule and he in mine?

Yes. Obviously.

Intellectual Skhokhoism – A Redefining of Leadership

African People, being black, arabic or white need to take pride in their context-specific history and surroundings. We should allow our own constructs to inform our discourse. We should put our own frames around our own pictures.

For too long have we listened to slightly overweight middle aged American and European men telling us what leadership is. What we don’t realise is that behind their capped teeth and fancy suits they have already framed the conversation by introducing certain words and questions. The question is not only what leadership is, but whether there still is or should be a thing like leadership? Is it a valid and useful construct? If I had to hear another conversation about star fish or the difference between management and leadership I am going to evaporate! We miss the forest for the trees.

Hence my ‘nuutskepping’ or concoction of the term “skhokhoism”, in particular “intellectual skhokhoism”. Derivitives can include skhokhoist (pertaining to the character of-), skhokhobility (ability to be skhokhoist), skhokholectual (person revealing the particular traits) and even skhokhonitis (wannabe cool to the extreme).

What is a Skhokho? In Mzansi townships being skhokho means being “the man”, or “the shit”. (If you ether don’t know what Mzansi is or if you are upset about the word shit, please leave this page, its not for you) Back to the point: Skhokho is a tough guy, a hard guy, a survivor, not to be messed with. Feminist News Flash: girls or women can be Skhokho too! The term originates from the legendary cullinary South African delight called: pap (phutu). At the bottom of the pot there normally remains a hard section, slightly burnt, a crust; some people like eating this.  That bottom crust, hard piece is called skhokho, hence a Skhokho is the last man standing, the ‘bittereinder’, the hard one… In Africa its good to be called Skhokho. “Sho skhoko, uhamba kanjani?” “ngi grend mfuwetu” And there you go… leopard vest and all.

Back to the boardroom brainstorm of the domesticated classroom word called ‘leadership’: In the title of this blog a proposed a redefining, not a redefinition. The emphasis thus falls on a constant change and adaptation, a perpetual discourse and dialogue in an attempt to keep the notion of leading (following?) fresh. Leadership, like it or not is a bit of a sissy word these days; ascribed to the consultant type that impress with clothing, drawing models or making up acronyms. Leadership has become a specialist field of linguistics, it thrives in conferences, on stage and on paper.

Yet, to get right into it, if leadership is influence, then every single person is a leader since we all influence each other. If leadership is manipulation, then surely some are more gifted than others whether by training or genetics. Ubuntu’s “I am because we are” affirms that leadership is perhaps sold these days as a linear simplicity, a dichotomy implied between leaders and followers. The more you grapple with the word the more you realise that the concept of leadership is as slippery as an Italian politician. If leadership becomes linked to performance or ambition it loses it’s authenticity. It lost its authenticity. Westerners have commodified leadership into a label used for personal upward mobility. But Westerners aren’t the only ones who castrates the idea of leadership…

In Africa there is a further problem, pertaining to chiefs. For centuries the notion of chiefs has ruled (pardon the pun) African societies. Even today, hidden just below the buzz of cash, universities and politics, lies the paralysing layer of traditional chiefdoms where some unspectacular old man and his addicted followers view him as god. This idea of chiefs have snuck into African politics. The politicians, whether Mayor, Minister or President is not seen as a public servant, but as a boss. These are our so called ‘leaders’. Hence the driving with ten blue light police cars and building R200 million houses. Africa has a long history and reality of interpreting leaders as chiefs, to the benefit of the chief. Yet ‘the people’ seem hesitant to stand up against a chief if the chief has the same skin colour as the oppressed. (insert Mugabe and a myriad of other examples)

So for normal people today, what do we use? Servanthood, which is according to me the ultimate form of  ‘leadership’ should perhaps be called just that: servanthood. It is something very different than the things ascribed to leadership these days. Those who wish to ‘serve’, ironically wants to be called leaders, not servants! So I will protect the concepts of serving and ubuntu and hide it from the leadership discussion. Don’t waste your life trying to resuscitate dead things. I will propose two concepts attached to leadership: firstly, the idea of being respected or feared and secondly, the idea of someone causing more change than others. In this sense, and to the extent that leadership has been perverted, I thus think a contemporary definition of leadership has to do with strength; not real strength hidden behind humility or service, but blatant strength revealed through power. In this sense leadership is not a virtue, it is a burden, opportunity and curse. Being a ‘leader’ greatly increases your risk of being an asshole. So to set aside all the pretence I will now call a leader a ‘skhokho’: it is a move that exposes and enlightens, it turns the conversation towards honesty and less fuzziness.

Skhokho’s are often tall, beatiful, confident, smart, skilled, rich, sneaky, reflective, creative, intimidating, charismatic, analytical, brave, strong, from good homes, from bad neighbourhoods, short, challenging, aggressive, arrogant, or any mixture of the above. Skhokholectuals are more than physically imposing or skilled, their strength lies in their minds. Intellectual Skhokhoism is not a noble art. It is the messy business of interference in other people’s lives. Ironically, it can cause good or harm, it can be selfish or giving. Let’s be honest however, 95 % of skhokhos use their skhokhotude for personal gain. Few Skhokhos use their skhokhoist dendencies to pursue love and justice. I say few, because they are there; just in the minority. Yet, skhokhos are encouraged and praised simply for being skhokhos! The admiration asks no questions of social justice or integrity, it revels in results. Hitler was a Skhoko. Taylor, Amin, Stalin, Pinochet and Mao were all Skhokhos. MIllions died under the Skhokhoism of these Skhokos. Today, millions of selfish Skhokhos reveal great Skhokhoism to the destruction of our planet and communities. Should this idea of influence, dominance and manipulation be valorised, should thousands of institutes dedicate itself to Skhokhoism? Why is it so popular to celebrate strength? It serves the purpose of those in power, those who has and seeks  power.

If we on this planet could take all the money, words and time dedicated on ‘leadership’ and instead dedicate it to ethics (ancient variety of leadership) our planet would be transformed unimaginably! But chats and institutes for ethics does not serve the discourse and system that produce super-rich and super-poor. The illusion that anyone can become educated (on paper) and have a career path (through leadership) keeps the billions in submission. The niceties are not kind, they are meant to blind and chain. Kindness can kill.

When I hear leadership, i hear evil. Sure, call me extreme or reactionary. But, that would be a cop out and simplistic evasion.

I embrace my Skhokhoism, but I don’t call it a virtue. I don’t want a planet where every kid becomes a Skhokho- despite my affection towards my fellow Skhokhos.

You have to go through a thing to leave it behind… So if this article makes no sense to you, push harder, become a greater leader… more, more, more… one day, after all the books, tedtalks, seminars, promotions, plans, awards-

revisit this.

 

Paradoxical Christian Leadership

I was flown down to Cape Town to do two four-hour teachings to students at the African Leadership Institute for Community Transformation. I dreaded it and despised the fact that I have to go speak to strangers who consider themselves Christians, yet wanted to talk about conflict and vision buy-in. I was not excited and would not have said yes if my boss didn’t ask me to go. Nevertheless I went. Day one was good. Day two turned out to be electrifying. It was utterly unexpected.
I very seldom write religious blogs and these days I seldom do religious talks. In fact, I’m on a bit of a secular pilgrimage that employs downplay with the aim to purify and bring into focus the things from my childhood that I have lost. These are things of integrity, naivety, belief and goodness. I figured out that the only way for me to get closer to Christ, was to walk away from him. Jesus said we have to lose our life to find it, I believe the same applies to our faith. You have to lose it to get it.
The reason is simple, in that the faith we think we have is not the pure love of God, but a stained, coloured, dirty version of mixed up sentiments and dogmatic beliefs that hinder more than it helps. To say something smart, we first need to shut up. I have to daily place my beliefs and religion at His feet, acknowledging I don’t know shit. In the abandonment of knowing the answers and in the sacrifice of adherence to cheap shortcut rules (like not swearing), I find a rawness that provides enough texture for the Salt to take effect. My spiritual journey takes one step forward and two steps back. What I’m discovering is that that is appropriate, since I am supposed to go backwards and downwards; away from my cleverness and away from my ambitions.
Back to the second day in Wellington with the young Christian leaders. I tried to deconstruct the notion of leadership as influence, by opposing it to Sen’s idea of development as the freedom to choose. In that sense many ‘christian’ attempts to lead are not Christian at all, because to really love and respect someone we should assist them to make their own choices and thus develop. We should not be aiming to influence people towards buying into our vision. It is ironic that Christian ‘leaders’ get taught to lead and not to follow. There is a degree of glorious influence and leadership, but only if it is born from a following and a supporting. Jesus was so strong that he was weak. He ended up ridiculed and killed. Yet we struggle to draw such image into our definitions and praxis of leadership. I’m tempted to say screw leadership, because the word is tainted. And yes, if you are smart you would realise that my desire to say ‘fuck leadership’ is the same as my ascetic journey that denies the luxury of Christian talk. We have to walk away, in order to arrive at a radical rediscovery. Such discoveries cannot be read or learnt from others. It has to be walked.
By writing this blog on both Jesus and Leadership I undermine my own journey, I release my godly tension of insecure blindness and muteness. I engage in sweet temptation of analysis and I do this sin willingly and sober. Such is the strength of my carnal mind and wimpy ego.