Leadership Challenges in the 21st Century20 Jun

There was some social media interaction in the last few weeks in response to a question which asked people to nominate one word that they thought would best describe leadership. A question, I think, is impossible to answer in the required manner, i.e. with one word. I did the best I could…. I said ‘ego’ (too much of it)!. I really wanted to say that all the good words that were used like ‘integrity’, trust’, ‘relationship’ or words to that effect were really relevant, but we need something new to suit the postmodern context of complexity and ambiguity that 21st Century leaders face. I was reading ‘Unisawise’ a Unisa publication on leadership where a number of local leaders were asked to talk on what leadership is or should be in South Africa or Africa today. It was interesting to see the mix ….with Alan Knott-Craig ex CEO of Vodacom calling for ‘ambitious, but not cruelly ambitious’ leaders and Archibishop Njongonkulu Ndungane calling for servant leadership, something of a diametrically opposed view. I tend to go with the latter but with a focus on community leadership involving egalitarian partnerships and endless dialogue between stakeholders and disciplines and whoever has a stake in resolving complex world problems today. I liked what Godwell Nhamo had to say – that “there is a need for co-leadership, leadership that is based on sharing and partnership, to address challenges …..”. His topic was solving problems relating to climate change and he said that “climate change cannot be addressed without realising that there are equal leaders across the globe”. It is this notion of equality that is missing in our leaders today, and the lack of it leaves leadership as an empty entity that revolves around building individual egos. Thabo Mbeki’s leadership initiative TMALI, mentioned in the same publication, falls short of the point once again in offering a series of short learning programs to develop African leaders……another skills based approach which has a dismal history of failure, simply because leadership is not about acquiring a set of skills or tools. Leadership is a journey into a personal transformation that results in a maturity and confidence that allows one to listen rather than to issue instructions, to empower others rather than to build empires and to have the interests of others truly at heart. The type of leadership that makes one better than others, that is egotistical in the extreme, that exists to amass individual power, can only ever be destructive to others and the needs of those served are never taken into account. In fact this, very common, type of leadership is so far from the ideal that perhaps we should not even be referring to it as leadership…. perhaps ‘tyrants’ or ‘dictators’ is more appropriate. It sounds extreme but sadly I encounter this model of leadership way too often. I would really like to see leadership curriculum having dialogue entrenched into the very fabric of the learning, where emerging leaders talk, listen, reflect, explore; where bright minds blend and produce rich new tapestries of knowledge.

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Dr. Elaine Saunders – Industrial Psychologist

Phd in Leadership Development
Author of Assessing Human Competence
Specialising in online competency-based assessment tools, leadership development and performance counselling
Based in Sandton, Johannesburg

My key areas of intervention revolve around helping individuals to achieve their potential in the work context. To this end, my consulting practice comprises of three key applications which are related. These are the application of competency-based assessment in recruitment and leadership development, counselling as it pertains to performance, wellness and the recovery from trauma, and leadership development coaching.

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