Lead, Mentor, Think, Serve, Show Up! – some of the core elements from Dr Wendy Luhabe’s address on Leadership and economic empowerment this week. Fittingly presented in the Frederick van Zyl Slabbert Institute, Dr Luhabe echoes some of the sentiments of the sociologist himself as well as the institute’s focus areas of leadership, active citizenship and social responsibility. Here are my takeaways and interpretations.
Frustrated with the slow pace of change in South Africa, Dr Luhabe urges South Africans to think about things. To not be victims of their surroundings, but to become active in their communities and to take ownership of their situations. Each individual has to discover his or her mission in life, leading to a new culture of entrepreneurship and empowerment.
Does this sound a bit idealistic in a country plagued by inequality, poverty and unemployment? That is why we need bold and visionary leadership, she says. We have a powerful future, but we need leaders who can make us think, who understand that real change requires the involvement of all. This is the only way we can really combat social unrest and improve levels of education.
It is all about the people. People are what holds South Africa together. People are South Africa’s future. And leadership is all about people. It is difficult to disagree with this, but people need guidance. Someone with a strong mind and someone who can guide with passion. It is someone who encourages independent thought and it is someone who is not afraid to be challenged.
Leaders might be born, but they also need education. Our children have lost the ability to think for themselves, says Dr Luhabe, blaming the education system and everyday environment for not stimulating children to think. It is not hard to understand the frustration among young people. They are not realising their potential. Politicians are promising a brighter future, but the promises are not realised. There are of course, great stories and examples of those who made it against the odds, but for many, the odds are still very much in favour of failure. To change this we need better education and better economics, but we also need good leaders and passionate mentors in our communities.
We all have a duty to get involved, to give something of ourselves, to serve our communities with our skills and experience. We can inspire teachers, parents and of course young people, but first, we have to show up! Whether you show up in person to take the lead, become a mentor in the most basic of ways or whether you are an example as a public figure or in the online environment, we need people to do away with apathy. By only focusing on our own issues or protecting our own interest, we will not succeed.
International guests often remark on the people of South Africa. The warmth, the diversity, the charm. But it seems that we often neglect to show those qualities to each other. Or perhaps we are so fired up by what we see in the news, that we forget to think of each other as normal human beings with shared hopes and dreams.
Building a nation is not an easy job. Building a nation with a diverse population and a troublesome history is even more difficult. That is why those looking for a quick fix rely on notions of nationalism and populist tactics. To drive meaningful change, we need to find a shared purpose and vision. We have to find a way in which we can practically facilitate the change. And if we can manage to do this, it can be a powerful experience!
A culture of entitlement is dangerous and according to Dr Luhabe, so is a culture of dependence. Our focus should be on creating a culture of possibility. We need to steer away from the dangers of entitlement and dependence. We need to choose the right leaders, people who can actually do the job and who have the interest of the people at heart. Leaders are not the strongest and the richest, they are those with integrity, humanity and compassion. Those who will take courageous and selfless decisions.
Let’s conclude with this inspiring quote by the dynamic Dr Luhabe: “Show up, even when you’re not invited to the table.”