When I decided to venture into the world of entrepreneurship in 1996, there were two things that occupied my mind: how I was going to conduct myself through this journey, and what my guiding principles were going to be. In pursuit of direction, I came across the concept of ‘values-based leadership’. It is a simplistic concept at face value, which everyone tends to align with. Values-based leadership essentially means being guided by your core values in every decision you make. In reality, when it comes down to really ‘walking the talk’, it is very difficult to live by.
When one talks about values, words such as honesty, integrity, fairness and loyalty come up. These are words with which every leader wants to be associated, and most organisations list them as their core values in annual reports. It is very clear that most people know what these words mean. The challenge, however, which seems to elude most leaders, is how these words find expression in their day-to-day leadership actions. What’s hard is defining your behaviour in and out of the workplace by your defined values.
As an entrepreneur, I have found myself in a number of situations where I was pressed to compromise or sacrifice some of my core values to get business and accumulate wealth. Each time I simply said, “No!” It got increasingly easier. Maybe that was because I had decided early on in my entrepreneurial journey to use my values as the guiding moral compass in my business and personal dealings.
The world today is driven by permanent competition. All around us we see decisions being made in an ‘achievement culture’ oriented manner. What is becoming pervasively important is accumulating wealth. However, I believe that how one gets to the goal line is as important as getting there; that the character of the person achieving the success is as important as how it is achieved.
What does this mean for leadership on the continent?
Fading fast are those days when big men relied on patronage, tribalism, insensitive political parties and gun-toting rebels to drive their selfish ambition for power. Therefore, the mindsets of the current leaders in government, business and civil society have to change.
As the continent democratises and economies grow, the individual will emerge as the great power to contend with. And what values guide these individuals’ behaviour is one of the most critical leadership questions facing the African continent.
To this end, I am of the strong opinion that those of us who really care about our respective countries and our continent have to conduct some introspection and ask ourselves: How do I evolve from the growing focus on ‘me’ to focusing on the greater good, the ‘we’?
When leaders live up to their collective responsibilities for ensuring that Africa finally lives up to its potential and values of humanity, Africa will truly ‘rise’.
My response to this has been the creation of the Africa Leadership Initiative (ALI), in partnership with fellow Africans from East Africa and West Africa. ALI was conceived in 2003 as a pan-African initiative borne out of a belief that Africa’s future lies in the investment into the development of effective, values-based and enlightened African leaders.
The purpose of ALI is to play a major role in developing the next generation of values-based African leaders, who are capable of guiding their countries as they struggle to align the demands of globalisation with local visions of ‘a good society’. The historical and current problems faced by the African continent are well known. ALI aims, in a significant way, to reverse this negative trend. In practical terms, ALI has created a network of such leaders drawn from business, government and civil society and gives them a ‘safe space’ to engage in meaningful dialogue about their respective responsibilities for creating positive social change in the communities, countries and regions in which they live. It has also sought to spur them ‘from thought to action’ by requiring them to implement sustainable individual community projects of their own design.
In the end, the qualities required of a leader in three to five years’ time are going to be very different from the qualities of 10 or more years ago, or even today.
In 2019, great leaders will be defined by who they are as much as what they do. Great leaders will demonstrate that character matters. Great leaders will not only possess the necessary technical skills, but they will also strive to grow beyond themselves. Great leaders will be visionaries with the communication strengths to educate, illuminate and elevate brands, companies and countries. Great leaders will lead by embracing actionable values. Great leaders will shape our world by leading ethically and responsibly. As stewards of their enterprises, they will take the longer view of our world in their decisions and actions. Great leaders will put the larger interests before their own.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King
IMAGE CREDITS: http://www.charlesstone.com/