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Lift as you rise


Prof. Bonang Mohale is an accomplished academic, former business executive and a modern leader. Mohale is the Chancellor of the University of the Free State, President of Business Unity South Africa and Professor of practice at the Johannesburg Business School in the College of Economics and Business. Mohale chairs the two boards of the Bidvest Group Limited and SBV services. He is the author of two books, ‘Lift as you Rise’ and ‘Behold the turtle’. Both these books are now in the Top 10 Best Seller’s list and making waves. Tribe Business Magazine sat down with him to discuss his books and thoughts around leading and leadership.

What was the inspiration behind your book Lift as you Rise?

‘Lift as you Rise’ is an African edict that simply says that as an individual you don’t have to wait until you are at the pinnacle of the organisation or you have the title before you extend a hand and lift as you rise. It says that if you are the government, the best amongst us lead with the heart of a servant because servant leadership is not a leader with many servants. It says if you are a business you need to continue doing well by doing good, because when business does well, society in general does well. As business we have a huge responsibility on our shoulders and we cannot be at the apex of corruption and shady dealings. It says business cannot continue to be an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty. Lastly it says that – lift as you rise portrays the law of nature – because nature is a wonderful metaphor for business. Everything that nature does it doesn’t do for itself, but for others. ‘Lift as you Rise’ took 8 years to write and ‘Behold the turtle’ took 2 years to write, not because I got clever but simply because I was in national lockdown. The second book ‘Behold the turtle’ which is also an African Edict says behold the turtle, it only makes progress when its neck is stuck out meaning that all of us as human beings could choose to be comfortable in our own safety like the safety of the hard shell of the turtle or the tortoise but if we do that then we won’t go anywhere as fast. For one to make progress from point A to point B we have to stick our neck out, just as when the turtle sticks its neck out, there is a possibility that the bird of prey might be hovering on top of trees watching and waiting to pounce. The metaphor is for us as human beings, in the context of ethically principled leadership, meaning each time we want to move forward in space and time we literally have a dance with death. We have to be prepared to risk it all in order for humanity to realise its common purpose and greater good. It’s about time that the good people put as much energy, time, work and effort as the bad guys do in doing bad things. Therefore we know all that is required for evil to persist and to thrive is for good people to do nothing. When we choose to be silent, we have made a choice and we have chosen the side of the oppressor not of the oppressed. That choice was made therefore our silence speaks volumes and we can’t claim neutrality because each time we claim to be neutral we are actually making a conscious, intentional choice to choose the side of the evil versus the good. I like the fact that both my books are African Edicts because I could have written like Shakespeare but in case you haven’t noticed I am an African. Secondly it was Africans who suffered 360 years of colonialism, 98 years of separate development and 48 years of institutionalised Apartheid. Not only was our land stolen which is the primary means of production but our culture was stolen our language was stolen, our morals and ways of doing things was stolen. We were told that everything black and African was backwards and hidden. Black is bad and good is white, but when a company is doing well it’s in the black and that’s the only time a positive association is connected with blackness other than that everything else is seen as negative. That’s why a lot of our people have been so brainwashed that to them progress and being clever had to be expressed in speaking English, that you are really productive and at work if you speak English and even amongst our fellow Africans we choose not to speak our mother tongues.

You are one of the MyMastery instructors focusing on ethical leadership and strategy and you are running a course on it. Here at Tribe Business Mag we believe in modern leadership. We believe modern leadership is what ties in with the change in times. You define yourself as a modern leader by using the traits that are relevant in today’s world. What are your thoughts on ethical leadership and strategy in this world that is in flux?

Leadership cannot be anything but ethical; however for emphasis we say ethical leadership. Because I am pretending to be an author I over-emphasise that by being tautologous in saying ethically confident leadership. As a leader you can’t be defensive and say you haven’t been found guilty in a court of law because the mere choice of confessing that you are a leader means you aspire for the higher ranks of morality and principles not just a rule of law. It means we measure you and you measure yourself with a higher standard, and that standard is the highest form of our own aspirations to be better today compared to yesterday, to never rest until the whole of humanity is out of the self-perpetuating vicious cycle of absolute poverty. So leadership is followership because you cannot lead yourself. Followership for other people is taking their faith and putting it in your hands. This essentially requires 3 things. Firstly a leader requires some sort of compelling vision that you are taking your people to a better place, a place they have never been. Secondly a leader requires courage because nobody will follow somebody who is petrified and scared of their own shadow. They have to be a warrior, gallant and have to be absolutely like the turtle that sticks its neck out. Lastly a leader requires integrity and this is the one principle we don’t speak about. You can’t call yourself a leader when the society or the village you come from know you as a thief and unethical. You are a leader because you represent absolutely the best hope and aspirations of what we have as a people. Therefore leadership is about extending trust not expecting it. It’s about starting with the – who first and then the what, because if you surround yourself with good people they will help you figure out what is it that you are supposed to be doing. Because together we can accomplish that which on our own will take inordinately long. Leadership is exemplified in the fact that when things go right you credit the team and when things go wrong you take final accountability. Leadership is about praising publically but chastising in private. Therefore this notion of leadership is absolutely the key in anything that needs to be transformed. As I conclude I’m reminded of another African edict that says I fear a pack of sheep led by a lion more than a pack of lions led by a sheep, this is because the tone is always set from the top it is never bottom up. To an extent we need to create space for people to feel needed and wanted, to feel free to speak their mind to create an environment that is a safe space. That to me is leadership and both my books talk about that notion of leadership. We have forgotten why we went through the struggle in the first place in a rush for feeding like absolute pigs, in the trust of industrial state beauty when we have forgotten that it was always about improving the quality of lives of our people.

Do you feel that, because we haven’t incalculated the values of African-ness and African-hood into the way leaders are leading, perhaps we have taken more elements that are borrowed and that don’t resonate with the leadership that’s needed on the African continent? Do you feel there is a gap and we are lacking for example the philosophy of Ubuntu that promotes togetherness, family, empowerment and success, do you feel these elements are lacking in some of our leaders in the country and on the continent?

The greater matter of success is who we become in the process because if you don’t know who you are then money will define you. As we speak today, borrowed converses pour from our lips; borrowed ropes hang from our necks. The measure of progress, intelligence and wisdom is not for ourselves but others. Everything that is African we are trying to underplay, while we promote, highlight and celebrate everything but blackness. All our learnings and teachings we get from nature that’s why the psychologist and scientists will study very intently a monkey that holds all the Bananas to himself when other monkeys are starving to death because the survival of the monkey in the clan is dependent on it working with the other clan member. Yet as human beings, when somebody does what the monkey in question did, we put them on the cover of a magazine or when someone buys 23 cars we give them front page news. My grandmother used to say that when your neighbour is hungry you cannot sleep at night so when we speak of Ubuntu it’s a way of life and its more than just a philosophy, it’s a notion that says in Africa it takes a whole village to bring up an African child. That the African way is looking at the son that is stealing Apricots from their neighbour’s yard without permission, without humbling himself and asking, and not shaming them in public but calling that child and seating him under the shadow of the Marula tree where his elders will teach him that his people have worked very hard in order for that tree to be fruitful. When they are finished with him they allow him to go back into society to go and experience Ubuntu. When he leaves there he only has one thought; I’m going to hold my clan name in the highest esteem, I would never soil it and shame it. That is how we dealt with things. We had our own ways of instilling hope and inspiring confidence in our youth. We had our own way of telling our own stories with the most amazing talent. Just because we didn’t write doesn’t mean we had/have a low IQ, it just means that is how we chose to do things until someone told us if you can’t write, not only are you dumb, stupid and backwards but you are also not even allowed to be a fully functional member of society. Yet we know that if we do not think for ourselves we place our future in the hands of others. It is up to us to create a new world. That new world doesn’t have to be like Japan, China or India but it can be typically African. You don’t compete by copying what others do; you highlight your absolute best. When one moves to France you want to eat typically French food and when the French come here they don’t want to be served croissants but typically African food. They want to experience a journey that represents Africa. When an African has money they don’t want anything to do with being African such as having murals or pictures of other African artists. When Africans have money they want to show other Africans that they have made it and are now rubbing shoulders with the best of the best. ■

For more information about Bonang Mohale’s My Mastery Ethical Leadership classes visit www.mymastery.tv The only local online subscription learning platform where you can learn on demand, in your own time, with exclusive video access to selected individual and often iconic “masters” such as Prof. Mohale, in a structured curriculum.

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