Leadership is…

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So many books have been written on leadership both on the theory and application. I typed the word Leadership on Kindle and I immediately got 17 291 book titles. I am sure that number will go up in the next few days.

Anywhere in this life, there is a demand for leadership. Leadership is as important as food, water and oxygen. But in the simplest terms what is leadership?

In my view, leadership is a listening exercise.  You can manage people without ever listening to them but you definitely cannot lead them without listening.

Effective leaders listen. They listen to two different sounds. The first sound is the sound of the times. This is the sound that reveals the problem or the crisis around them. This sound expresses the call, without this sound there is no need for external leadership.

Crisis is the birthplace of leadership. Leaders like Winston Churchill, Oliver Tambo, Winnie Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, the fourteen Xhosa leaders who were imprisoned in Robben Island between 1877-78 and many others were born out of a madness in their times – a crisis that threatened human dignity.

The second sound they listen to is the sound from within. This is the sound of conviction, pain and need. It is this sound that compels them to go against the tide and respond to the call. It is through this sound that each one of us makes a personal decision to either muffle the courage to rise up or to simply shrink from within and hope that help will come from somewhere else.

Liberation movement leaders are a result of the sound of oppression. Scientific leaders arose as a result of a vacuum in the study of knowledge, i.e Albert Einstein. Sometimes the sound from the outside comes in the form of a question as is the case of Robert E. Kahn and Vint Cerf who are credited for engineering the World Wide Web – also known as the internet.

Leadership has very little to do with talent. And if you dare argue otherwise then effective leaders are talented listeners. Immature leaders obsess about being heard and their talents being recognised. Leadership is not a title and anyone can amass great influence through PR. But no amount of false advertising can make up for a lack of conviction.

Let me end with this, I don’t know if leaders are born or made. All I know is that effective leaders operate from a place of conviction. Their WHY is different from that of the crowd. All I know is that leaders who accepted the call continue to listen, discerning the time of their effectiveness.

About Anele Matshisi
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