Trailblazers, ferrymen and shepherds: the leaders SA needs

It is ironic that the president of a country that has to deal with devastating floods and loss of lives is more focused on the corruption, looting and stealing of disaster funding allocated to the province of KwaZulu-Natal than the homeless, waterless and hungry victims of the flood. It is an indictment of the country of Madiba to see how far into the depths of greed and moral degradation some of our leaders and public servants have sunk.

Among the enormous challenges we have to endure are a vengeful virus, load-shedding, nondelivery, nonperformance, unethical leaders shod in Gucci shoes and the indolent stupor of some greedy leaders who have been allowed to erode our national psyche. It is more than any nation can withstand. We have to do something to change the behaviour of thieves, thugs and goons who populate our political system. 

We must heed the call to conscious, ethical leadership from the soul-searing conversations of the Conscious Leadership and Ethics Summit on 18 May in Johannesburg. The world’s most brilliant minds and conscious thinkers will there provide a brave intolerance for the nightmares that visit us, such as the trickery and thievery of some of our leaders and their underlings. 

It is also an opportunity for leadership to evaluate and deepen their understanding of power, purpose and service and create a more conscious and humane socioeconomic and political environment. The time has come for leaders who hold the future of a nation or company in their hands to get to grips with conscious, ethical leadership. Failing this, all attempts to unify and rebuild a country that was once a rainbowed global beacon will fail. 

A message from the Dalai Lama to the participants at the summit references the “basic human need for kindness, compassion and care”. He says: “It is natural to be driven by self-interest, which is necessary to survive. But we need a wise self-interest that is generous and cooperative, taking others’ interests into account. When leaders have a genuine sense of concern for others, there’s no room for bullying or exploitation. Instead they can be honest, truthful and transparent. 

“There are three styles of compassionate leadership,” His Holiness continues. “The trailblazer, who leads from the front, takes the risks and sets an example; the ferryman, who accompanies those in his care and shares the ups and downs of the crossing; and the shepherd, who sees every one of his flock in before him. Crucially, these three styles of leadership have in common an all-encompassing concern of those they lead.” 

The multibillion-dollar question is, do you recognise any one of these leadership styles in the government of the day? What kind of leader is President Cyril Ramaphosa? Does he display the leadership traits the Dalai Lama mentions?

The benevolent paternalism of some of our dirt-covered politicians who stand on platforms telling themselves that everything they do, they do in the name of greater good, is farcical and mindless. Their paralytic inaction and the inexplicable lack of accountability, an example of which is the Digital Vibes debacle and the former minister of health getting off unscathed in parliament, should enrage us, but most of us are immune and helpless against blatant mismanagement and crippling corruption. We have sunken into a pool of indifference, despair and inaction. 

I am hoping that those conscious leaders at the summit will be galvanised to act and awaken the hero within themselves. This is not the domain of the feeble-minded, hippies or new-age flakes, as is the perception in most boardrooms, but rather of those who are energised with passion, purpose, productivity and vision for a new way of being and doing business. 

Those within the conscious leadership ecosystem soon realise that the more they awaken to consciousness, the more powerful, courageous and responsible they become. Conscious leaders have a penetrating insight into suffering. They take on the responsibility to do the right thing despite the odds. 

The philosopher Seneca said, “A hungry people listens not to reason, nor cares for justice, nor is bent by any prayer.” 

This holds as true today as it did centuries ago. We are a hungry people despite our natural resources. Rolling protests by the disgruntled and destitute becoming commonplace is just the beginning. 

However, it is not too late for the leader of this country to display courage and change the insidious malaise of corruption and greed that is so rampant in his government. All he needs to do is ask: What kind of leader am I and what is the legacy that I would like to leave? 

Ramaphosa needs to wake up and see where we are headed if he does not act. The summit will compile report to the president to give him and his executives the tools to embed conscious, ethical behaviour and place the welfare of the people of this country first. Does he have the courage and insight to embrace it, let alone read the report?