Building a Legacy requires leading with Humanity: Lessons from Madiba

Building a Legacy requires leading with Humanity: Lessons from Madiba

Shirley Zinn of Tuesday Consulting shares her insights.

Volatility. Disruption. Rising inequality, and increasing social unrest. Around the world, political systems are in flux, with old, established structures and deals (think NATO, the EU, Brexit) breaking down in the face of discordant leadership. Parallel to the difficult politics, the global business sphere is also undergoing profound change, with new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 3D printing accelerating an already frenzied pace of change…and threatening millions of jobs. Notably, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2030, as many as 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide to automation.

In the face of such highly complex and deeply significant challenges, today’s political and business leaders have an opportunity to shape the future – and to forge enduring legacies. Without doubt, the path ahead is not a straight one, and new paradigms require new, creative solutions. In South Africa, having recently celebrated the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birthday, it is clear that leaders from every sphere have much to learn and to master if they wish to further the Madiba legacy of kindness, compassion, and inclusivity.

Building a Legacy with a strong moral compass

With many analysts lamenting what appears to be a retreat of liberal democratic principles around the world, we require authentic leaders who are credible, honest, resilient, committed and accountable. In short, we need leaders with a strong moral compass. As Mandela said, ‘real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.’

Locally, we have to recover from years of widespread corruption – which has only served to deepen poverty, inequality and racial unrest. On the global front, leaders have to fight harder for the principles of democratic rule. Worryingly, the Bertelsmann Foundation, a think tank which looks at emerging economies, has found that the “quality of democracy…has fallen to its lowest level in 12 years.”

With this in mind, we need leaders who are able to promote reconciliation and nation building, and who can promote social dialogue to build a lasting democracy.
In South Africa, we need leaders who will be able to advance the agenda of redressing the injustices of the past effectively, so that we might build an inclusive economy.

Importantly, we require this kind of leadership in all sectors of society.

Building a Legacy on ‘Hard evidence’

Reflecting on Mandela’s leadership, President Cyril Ramaphosa has stated that Madiba’s most enduring accomplishment was to teach us to ‘be human’. He talked about the building of a global humanity, whereby young people are empowered to bring about change, and leaders work to eliminate the corruption that has become so rife in political leadership.

Notably, local businessman Patrice Motsepe has commented that corruption in SA is not confined to government.

“…in order to have a corrupt politician, you need to have an equally corrupt private sector,” he stated. “All of us in the business sector need to ensure that we behave in a way that reflects zero tolerance of corruption.”

Speaking in Johannesburg at the centenary of Mandela’s birthday, former US President Barack Obama echoed this sentiment. He emphasized that today’s leaders have a critical choice to make, and a choice that will define our political and social trajectories over the next decade…

“So on Madiba’s 100th birthday, we now stand at a crossroads – a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world. Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be. How should we respond?”

Here is his answer to this defining question:

“I believe we have no choice but to move forward; that those of us who believe in democracy and civil rights and a common humanity have a better story to tell. And I believe this not just based on sentiment, I believe it based on hard evidence.”

speaking truth to power

Fortunately, we have strong leaders who have already begun this task. Former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, for one, has been exemplary with a leadership style that is forthright, honest, determined, focused and credible. Iconic leader and former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has shown us how to speak truth to power, and to be fearless in the pursuit of justice.

Looking ahead, we can take inspiration from these leaders, and we can begin to build lasting legacies of our own. This will require adaptability, agility and attitude – and leadership that is both decisive and humane. Essentially, we need to bring more humanity into our leadership, at every level.

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Nelson Mandela