The four cornerstones of positively impactful leadership
In our pursuit of being relevant global citizens, each of us has to be an effective leader of self — regardless of how junior or senior our station in life, or how young or old we are.
When we compare the great leadership crusade to the military expeditions of yesteryear, we can acknowledge, apart from the obvious differences in composition, the latter comprised of complicated pursuits that had a beginning and an end.
When reflecting on the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step”; and the late, great Desmond Tutu, “There is only one way to eat an elephant — one bite at a time”, we realise that no matter what the size, scale and nature the journeys are, they all start with the first step.
In contrast to the historic expeditions mentioned, the ‘great leadership crusade’ is complex and dynamic, with many moving parts requiring a systemic approach.
The words of Francis of Assisi ring out encouragingly, “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Let us turn our focus to those things that we can control and influence, rather than those that we can’t.
Each of the world’s great structures that have withstood the passing of time was built on robust and unmoving foundations, with cornerstones that were engineered without compromise.
Engineering positive change
Prior to being achieved, every accomplishment in the history of mankind was deemed to be impossible. So before embarking upon the first step of our great journey, we should identify and frogmarch the elephants out of the room: the foundational precepts, principles and good practises that this crusade is built upon, will fall on deaf ears in the case of the vast majority of our leaders in government, organised crime syndicates, avaricious and narcissistic corporate puppeteers and their puppets, and corrupt members of the general public.
Let us hold fast to the belief that political values are based on social values which in turn are based on individual values. If we can create a movement of positive change within enough individuals, we can then metamorphosise the social values and thereby create a tipping point for positive political change.
A wonderful example of rapid social change is that of Rwanda.
Subsequent to the tragic period of genocide, president Paul Kagame introduced a new version of Umuganda, which is a Kinyarwanda word meaning “Coming together in common purpose”. It is a compulsory clean-up held on the last Saturday of every month. It has transformed Rwanda into being the cleanest country in Africa for several years and one of the cleanest countries in the world.
Now that litter is scarce, people often do other community service such as building roads, repairing houses or cultivating vegetable gardens. The commonly held view by people in the street is that it has simply become lifestyle.
Importantly though, political transformation must not be the focus of our crusade — it must simply be one of the many consequences of it. In order to muffle the cacophony of naysayers and disruptors over time, we must be unwavering in our prioritisation and focus on the components of consequence.
The complex world of today is a rapidly evolving ecosystem in which the emphasis is more on the relationships between the various components, rather than on the entities themselves.
So, in the pursuit of “being the best me and we in 2023” (and beyond) it is imperative to validate and embed the cornerstones of great leadership. In our pursuit of being relevant global citizens, each of us has to be an effective leader of self — regardless of how junior or senior our station in life, or how young or old we are.
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Leadership transcends the holding of a position of authority, it is a state of being. Unequivocally, leadership is a verb and not a noun.
As with any great physical structure, it is essential to lay an unwavering foundation for this crusade, with the four cornerstones irrevocably embedded. The entire structure will be galvanised and catalysed with integrity.
This foundation is applicable for existing leaders at all levels, emerging leaders, aspirant leaders or anyone who is simply seeking to discover the meaning and richness of self-mastery.
The four cornerstones are:
- Intentionality and conviction;
- An attitude of gratitude and a heart of servitude;
- A spirit of empathy and compassion; and
- A character of substance, decisiveness and commitment.
The intentionality speaks to having individual and collective vision and pursuing meaning and purpose in who we are and what we do. The conviction is the unwavering belief in a greater good in the forging of an empathetic, conscious and inclusive society that seeks to do no harm.
Having an attitude of gratitude speaks to our appreciation for our lives and those of others with positive expectancy. Having a heart of servitude means seeking to instil hope and to do for others regardless of the sacrifice.
Great examples of this are the frontline of health workers during the Covid pandemic and who continually placed their own lives at risk, and the White Helmets who are humanitarian volunteers who risk their lives to help anyone in need regardless of their religion or political affiliations.
Having a spirit of empathy and compassion is our willingness to see, hear, feel and understand the challenges and plight of those we encounter in our daily lives.
Through this, we become champions of hope.
True character is exemplified in and through the famous quote by the great Dr Martin Luther King Jnr which states, “The measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and complacency, but where he stands in terms of controversy and challenge”. This translates into authentic presence and stature and is exemplified in decisiveness and commitment.
The sum of our choices
Information equips and gives us knowledge. Applied knowledge empowers us, and as we seek to find and contribute value, it produces wisdom.
We are the sum of our choices and in order to make wise choices, we must define, know and commit to our priorities. Acting upon these decisions requires motivation and commitment, and these are forged by identifying and pursuing our highest levels of meaning and purpose and linking them to the changes we need to make to accomplish our aspirations and goals.
Our self-worth and belief have been defined by our life’s journey. Shifting our perceptions, habits and patterns of behaviour, requires more than acts of doing — it requires acts of becoming. To change our life experience and reformat what our external world presents and represents, we must change our inner world through confronting and overcoming our fears and self-limiting beliefs. Courage and conviction are essential in doing this.
Knowing what makes us relevant and how we contribute value is what distinguishes us; being distinguished is best described as being conspicuous by excellence. Excellence is not simply a desired state — it is how we live, show up and do what we do — and our authenticity of being.
If we are not excellent now in the present, how can we expect to be as we move through time?
So, as we continue onwards and upwards in our journey through this time called life, we should pause and reflect on that point in time at which we will depart.
What is the legacy we want to leave, and how do we want to be remembered? We should ask: “If I were to die today, would that be the legacy I leave and the way in which people remember me?”.
If it isn’t, what do we have to do right now to change that? DM/ BM/ ML
Read more from this series on leadership: “What makes a great leader? The ability to inspire, motivate and influence”