Leading Blog






08.31.06

Desmond Tutu on Real Leadership

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu, South African cleric and recipient of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, gave a speech recently at the Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture in Cape Town. Here are some of his edited comments from that speech on Real Leadership:

I thought it might not be entirely inappropriate to talk about leadership—true, real leadership.

There is an episode in the Christian Gospels when the disciples of Jesus were bickering about leadership positions. So Jesus called them together to give them a profound lesson on true greatness real leadership and it turned out to be one of the most paradoxical statements ever. Just listen:
"And when the other ten apostles heard it, they began to be indignant with James and John. But Jesus called them to Him and said to them. You know that those who are recognized as governing and are supposed to rule the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority and dominion over them. But this is not to be so among you; instead, whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant. And whoever wishes to be most important and first in rank among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to have service rendered to Him, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10: 41-50)

Now what kind of advice is that? Totally unrealistic, sentimental and utopian. They would make mincemeat of you in a hard-nosed cynical world where it is dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, and devil take the hindmost, and everyone for himself in a setting of cutthroat competition. But is that kind of success really what people, in fact, admire, indeed revere?

The leader is there for the sake of the led. The formula Jesus propounded clearly was not so utopian and unrealistic. Almost all who have become outstanding leaders have demonstrated this remarkable attribute of selfless altruism. The leader is there not for what he/she can get out of this exalted position. No, the real, the true leader knows the position is to enable the leader to serve those she leads. It is not an opportunity for self-aggrandizement, but for service of the led.

Integrity: People look up to their leaders for inspiration; they somehow believe they embody their best ideals, attributes and characteristics. This is how they want to believe they would be at their best.

They want their leaders in a way to be a Colossus without blemish, a paragon of virtue, of impeccable moral standards, not an idol with feet of clay.

There surely is conduct which might be tolerated in a lesser mortal but that would be anathema in the Head of State. We speak of gravitas, of in our language shadow, isthunzi, a presence. We want to experience our head of state as being presidential. He/she is not an ordinary person.

Humility: Almost paradoxically we also are attracted to a head of state who is humble and approachable not arrogant and aloof.

People want their leader as it were to have charisma, to be regal and exalted, dignified, almost godlike as expressing the best about their idealized corporate consciousness and identity. But they also want them to be people of flesh and blood, not remote, but down to earth in touch with them, aware of their aspirations, anguish, needs and know where the shoe pinches.

No human being is infallible: Most politicians seem to have a massive allergy to admitting they might have been wrong. I suspect most of us find humble pie unappetizing. We do not like to admit that we made a mistake. It is our peculiar hubris.

A leader leads by leading: A true leader whilst eager to carry his constituency with him whenever possible, sometimes has to take a stand that is not too popular with his followers. But the real leader then demonstrates his mettle by leading through leading. It requires courage to do this, but the leader recalls that the tortoise makes progress only when it sticks its neck out. Leadership can be a lonely vocation.

Bishop Charles Albertyn used to tell us this story, In this establishment, there are only two rules. Rule No. 1 - The boss is always right. Rule no. 2, in case the boss is wrong, refer to rule No. 1. It may seem as if the kind of leader who uses this style is always in charge, things happen, everybody dances attention. But in fact, it is self-defeating. It allows resentment and anger to build up in those who have been humiliated by the apparently decisive boss and then one day even the worm will turn.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 02:09 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Leaders , Leadership



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