By Gail Cameron, CEO of The Image Excellence Group
In Gail Cameron’s new book Authentic African Leadership, that tells the true stories of African leaders she has coached in the last 20 years, she demonstrates that there exists an alternative practice to global leadership outside the widely accepted Western and US-centric leadership methodologies. In Turnbull’s Worldly Leadership – Alternative Wisdoms he suggests that ‘an alternative view to global leadership is needed owing to four limitations: (1) global leadership is often shorthand for the applications of Western management practices in non-Western contexts; (2) defining a set of universal traits for leadership is impossible; (3) leadership is contextually driven; and (4) leadership can be seen as a dynamic social process’. The book not only tells the stories of diverse African leaders against a dynamically evolving social backdrop, it also set out the techniques and methodologies applied in their becoming more effective African leaders.
In Chapter one, the story of Jacob Lebea, you will learn of the immense obstacles and challenges he overcame to rise to one of the top jobs in a leading bank. The chapter also explores the duality of leadership behaviours in SA, (source Prof Liz Booysen) which for historic reasons, corporate SA follows the Anglo-American management style, one that is not always second-nature to the rising numbers of black people who are entering managerial positions.
One of the biggest challenges for business leaders in SA is how to simultaneously compete globally and function parochially. Differences of the two cultural groups could be valuable assets and strengths in a diverse workforce, leading to higher levels of competitive advantage. However, if not correctly managed, could lead to major conflict and failure. The chapter sets out Jacob’s strengths and growth areas in terms of the cultural dimensions – below are two examples:
Humane Orientation Humanism enabled Jacob to create harmony within diverse teams and coach and develop weaker members of the team. Human orientation reflects the degree to which society encourages individuals to be fair, and rewards them for being altruistic, generous, gentle and kind to others. Black managers scored above average and ranked this in second place in terms of importance. Black managers also felt a shared responsibility in order to protect and assist the non-performer, as opposed to white managers who scored below average and ranked this in seventh place and who are less accommodating than black managers and are more task-focused than people oriented.
Collectivism: Collectivism is reflected in teamwork, a lack of competition among individuals and the encouragement of conformity, consensus decision making, co-operation, collaboration and interdependence of activities. This also finds expression in Ubuntu, which is putting the interests of the group ahead of your own needs. Eurocentric leadership styles prefer individualism that is reflected in the encouragement of employees to work independently, competition among employees for recognition and rewards, and a lack of social relationships among employees and tolerance for individuality. The individual is more important than the group. This can create disharmony in teams and result in fragmentation. This was an area of strength for Jacob and assisted him in building self-managed, and self-motivated teams – an essential ingredient in his recipe for success.
Comments by this leader on the coaching he received from Gail Cameron includes; “This programme is an investment in yourself. It has taught me how to position myself and understand the world that we live in. It was a big eye-opener for me and, as a result, I am more confident. I now understand the rules of the game and I’ve become a player. I can see where people are coming from and understand the various paradigms. It has given me the skills to understand people in totality. In the past, it was a case of feeling my way through. Now I have absolute understanding – my level of knowledge is complete. The course has certainly enhanced my management skills.