Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”

Responsibility is one of the core values identified by Heartlines, a mass media project focusing on morals and values within South Africa, and with the focus on the recent Jacob Zuma rape trial set to be replaced by a focus on the Jacob Zuma corruption trial, responsible leadership is a hotly debated topic.

According to the Harvard Business School leadership is the development of values-based stewardship and involves accountability, leading responsibly across all cultures, reconciling dilemmas and creating sustainable business. I am sure that we can agree quite easily on the characteristics of a good leader: someone who is honourable; a person we trust and respect; someone who upholds the values to which we, as a society, ascribe; and a person who leads by example.

Yet we must also accept that leaders are human – and can, and probably will, make mistakes. So what is an acceptable breach of leadership and why does it seem to happen more often in modern times? It is not just a factor of better media monitoring or globalisation. If we go back a few hundred years leaders were generally identified at an early age. Take any prince or princess – or even the Dalai Lama – as an example. They were carefully groomed for a leadership role. They were taught social graces and political skills. Perhaps, most importantly, they were taught how to deal with power, with access to wealth, with social influence. They had the values and expectations of society inculcated into their very existence.

Leaders were nurtured, mentored, trained and refined. Now they simply indicate their availability and can be voted into a position of power – without any formal training, without guidance in emotional maturity or personal integrity. Is it any wonder that leaders seem to fall from grace more often?

Ethics and responsibility are serious and central components of leadership. “It is important for leaders to set an example,” said Karthy Govender, professor of constitutional and administrative law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, currently also seconded to the Human Rights Commission. “In a country such as ours people look up to leadership.”

“One is not naïve enough to think that people in leadership roles won’t have extra-martial affairs… but there is serious concern over the Jacob Zuma rape trial – especially the message it is giving regarding HIV and AIDS. Some of the points made in the closing judgement indicate that Zuma made poor decisions. There must be accountability for a lapse in leadership,” said Govender. Govender added that the broader questions we should be asking regarding Zuma are: “Has he violated elements of the constitution? Was he acting in a manner that is compatible with his office? And would the election of Zuma at state president polarise the country and make it more divisive than it is now?”

In our fledgling democracy, it will be the voters who make this decision. But before we leave the issue hanging until the next election, perhaps we should consider how the opinion of leadership is changing as we find our feet and grow into our (relatively new) constitutional skin. “Many South Africans (and to a great extent, the media) still seem to be wed to the ideal of the ‘great man’ – a strong patriarchal notion of leadership,” said Marie Odendaal, Student Leader Development Co-ordinator at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“Hence the rapid resort, in times of uncertainty and challenge, to top-down, authoritarian ways of exercising power; the intensity of conflict around who the future leader of the country should be; people’s doubts about having a woman as president; and the abdication by many ordinary South Africans of their power and responsibility both to lead and to be critical citizens,” said Odendaal.

Most people are still used to the powerful patriarchal leadership type, as evidenced by the Zuma cult, said Odendaal. As a result the image our elected leaders portray in both their public and private lives serves as a role model and should be considered to be of critical importance.

“Our leaders need to be seen to be motivated primarily by the desire to serve others, not themselves; and to be managing their own lives and relationships effectively and with integrity. They need to act with respect for self and others, in order for people to be able to entrust them with the responsibilities of elected leadership,” said Odendaal.

“The problem with patriarchal and domineering understanding of leadership,” continued Odendaal, “is that it is wholly inadequate to enable us to meet the complex challenges facing us in South Africa today. These challenges need to be met by complex leadership partnerships within and between different groups and sectors, where people at various levels exercise power competently and with integrity.”

“It is more appropriate to view leadership as a partnership – it is not just about the leader,” said Odendaal. “It’s about the team; it’s about processes and relationships.”

“The process of people working together to achieve a shared, mutually agreed, purpose that results in positive social change to the benefit of the greatest possible number of people – thereby increasing social justice.”

“It’s an inclusive process, not an elitist process, involving reciprocal relationships; the flow of power or influence in these relationships is dynamic and multidirectional – bottom-up, top-down, horizontal…”

“This is a much more shared, distributive notion of leadership,” said Odendaal, “and certainly one in which both elected leaders and the people they serve are seen as morally and practically accountable to each other.” – Heartlines Features

By Sharon Davis

Written by Heartlines

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