Producing leaders to believe in

2008-03-21 00:00

“In South Africa there is a culture of self-criticism. I said that in the nineties when I was ambassador and at that time I asked South Africans to stop bad-mouthing the economy as it made it very difficult for me to encourage overseas investment,“ said James Joseph, who was United States ambassador to South Africa from 1996 to 1999.


Joseph was responding to media reports that many South Africans feel let down by their leaders and disappointed by non-delivery and corruption.

“If people compare current leaders with Nelson Mandela they need to realise that a man of his calibre comes around rarely in the life of a nation. If you expect all leaders to be of his calibre you will be disappointed. Leaders bring different qualities and Mandela’s qualities are related to his way of being. His most important task was reconstruction and not economic empowerment, which is the task of the leaders who followed him.”

The former ambassador was due to be in the city to address a seminar hosted by the School of Philosophy and Ethics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Pietermaritzburg). However, the event was cancelled because of student protest action on the campus. He was to have spoken on ethics in public life.

Joseph is currently professor of the practice of public policy at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. He is also the director of the United States - Southern Africa Centre for Leadership and Public Values at Duke and the University of Cape Town’s business school. He explained that the leadership centre uses a model of “leadership as a way of being” that entails four elements. “First there is emotional intelligence which requires self-awareness. Then there is moral intelligence which requires more than just a moral sense, but self-enforcement that enhances an individual’s opportunity to be ethical. It becomes not just a moral imperative but a matter of self-interest to behave ethically. If you look at behaviour over the long term, it’s in a leader’s interest to behave ethically, although in the short term it may seem more beneficial to behave unethically.

“Then there is social awareness. By this we mean that to be an effective leader, you have to be aware of the relationship between culture and leadership. A successful leader has to have social awareness. The last is spiritual awareness. This means being able to anticipate the unknown and unexpected because leaders are purveyors of hope and holders of a vision.”

Joseph explained that Mandela is the prototype of this type of leadership, which “focuses not so much on someone’s set of experiences but on his or her values and ideals”. He believes that another example of this style of leadership is Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for the United States presidency. “Some people criticise his lack of experience, but people are talking about his judgment, his values and his way of being. It is these things and not his experience that make him attractive to U.S. voters.”

Leaders often seem to be strongly egocentric people, contrary to the style of leadership that Joseph advocates. Commenting on the role that ego plays in leadership, he said that the leadership model the centre teaches can also be described as “servant leadership”. “The first objective of this type of leader is to serve. He or she must be people-centred and not self-centred. Leadership follows from the desire to serve others. However, it is still necessary for this type of leader to be self-confident and assertive, but not egocentric. Someone who is not self-assertive is not likely to be a successful leader. Leaders have to believe in what they are doing to get others to follow their lead and their vision. They have to be able to demonstrate that their vision is achievable.”

Joseph was a civil rights activist in Alabama and served as university chaplain at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. The Witness asked him to comment on the widely-held perception that the church in South Africa has lost its voice and the prominent position it occupied during the apartheid struggle. He compared this with the U.S. church’s role in the civil rights movement.

“The church was at the forefront of the movement that led to the outlawing of racial segregation in the U.S. I believe it has been struggling to find its voice and a role for itself ever since then. It is difficult after a revolutionary situation to understand what to do after the first objective has been achieved. I would suggest that the South African church’s natural calling is to focus on reconciliation and building social cohesion.”

Leadership Centre

In 2001, James Joseph launched the United States — Southern Africa Centre for Leadership and Public Values based in Durham and Cape Town. The centre is a partnership between Duke University’s Sanford Institute and the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. It aims to help emerging leaders in southern Africa to contribute to the development and reconstruction of their countries and the region. The programme also aims to forge links between independent sector groups in South Africa and the U.S., and to contribute to the public discussion of ethics in public life.

Joseph explained: “By the end of March the centre will have graduated 135 students. Two-thirds of them are from southern Africa. Our graduates include the Anglican Archbishop-elect of Cape Town, the Reverend Thabo Makgoba, Raenette Taljaard, head of the Helen Suzman Foundation, and Michael Nutter, the new mayor of Philadelphia in the United States.

“Students participate in a year-long programme that covers ethics, accountability and responsible leadership. The course helps them to enhance their natural leadership abilities by identifying their passions, competencies and vision for practising the art of leadership. The programme starts with a retreat on Robben Island where we examine the values that came out of the struggle. We provide students with an executive coach for the year and they complete a range of Internet assignments. We meet again at the end of the course for a second retreat in Cape Town. The style of leadership we teach is based on the servant leadership model and leadership as a way of being. We have a very good feeling about the way the programme is progressing.”

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