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Everyone has potential to be a leader’ Dr Saleem Badat

Date Released: Wed, 18 April 2012 10:14 +0200

RHODES University Vice-Chancellor Dr Saleem Badat says people need to move away from the ‘big man’ syndrome and begin to question their leadership.

Addressing graduands at Rhodes University on Saturday, Dr Badat said given the pressing challenges of poverty and unemployment, hunger and disease, social equity and justice, people had a task to cultivate, grow and institutionalise ethical, responsible and accountable leadership across society.

“In building leadership we must take history, culture and context seriously. We need to develop a situated leadership appropriate to our conditions; and we need to forge leadership that is distributed institutionally, rather than centred on the ‘big man’ and usually it is the big man,” he said.

He made reference to the emergence of a strange breed of leaders whose moral quotient was degenerating and raised concern about the extent to which people had an accountable democracy.
Dr Badat, citing Nedbank chairperson Dr Reuel Khoza, said people had a duty to call to book the putative leaders who could not lead.

“Leadership is people acting for ‘positive change;’ is pioneering in both thought and action; is willingness ‘to take action to address the challenges’ we see around us, is to use knowledge, expertise, skills and network to ‘change society for the better’ in whatever arena we find ourselves,” he said.

Dr Badat said there was need to draw inspiration from people like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Amina Cachalia, among others.

“Down to earth, fallible people with good values and isthunzi (presence); mindful of people’s aspirations, anguish and needs; with the courage to challenge the status quo and the passion to pursue change; committed to service and perseverance to overcome obstacles; knowing that to lead means doing what is right rather than what is popular among followers,” he said.

“We can also take inspiration from an emerging generation, the youth of our country – not the pompous, verbose, self-aggrandising lot who regularly amuse and bemuse us, but those who humble us by their imagination and positive outlook, and by their quiet, committed, and determined striving through numerous projects to secure social justice for all, deepen our democracy, and protect our planet.

Citing Prof Paul Maylam, Dr Badat said luminous and respected leaders cherished some key fundamental values such as believing in innate worth and dignity of all human beings, unwavering commitment to democracy and human rights and leaders who take learning, education and knowledge seriously.

“They refuse to be paralysed by our history, legacy and contemporary problems. Instead, they inspire us by reminding us of our remarkable ingenuity and courage in fashioning fabulous constitution and winning our democracy; they call on us to draw on these to confront our challenges.

At the heart of ethical, responsible and accountable leadership is, of course, integrity and honesty. Ethical leaders, in the words of the great African leader, Amilcar Cabral, ‘tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories’.”

Dr Badat said without integrity, there could be no principled conduct; no prospect of winning trust and inspiring and uniting people around a vision; no effective communication, no ethical and responsible leadership.He said like Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu, the leader was best when people were hardly aware of his existence.

“Of course, leaders need committed yet critical supporters, who also act as agents of change, strong institutions and a strong civil society. Leadership then becomes everyone’s task and responsibility. This is the real meaning of the slogan, ‘power to the people.’ If not this, we will continue under the yoke of the big men brand of leadership, with all its deficiencies,” he said.

Dr Badat said everyone had the potential to be a leader, for leaders were not born with some magic infallible tool kit but were produced by environments, opportunities, life journeys and experiences.

“Leadership is not inherited or bestowed through patronage, or a function of material wealth, high office, status, or a degree. It must be earned through ethical conduct, impeccable integrity, visionary endeavour, selfless public service, perseverance and commitment to people and responsibilities,” he said.

Dr Badat said the graduands had the honour of studying at a very special and distinctive university, one that deservedly commanded an enviable academic reputation.

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