Monday, January 15, 2007

Ubuntu, Mutuality and Leadership

As a South African I remain interested in a contextual understanding of the possibilities of authentic Christian Leadership in that context. I continue to explore the promise that a "redemptive" understanding and use of African philosophy (such as Harambee, Ubuntu, etc.) holds for an incarnational approach to Christian Leadership. The South African Nguni word ubuntu, from the aphorism; “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu – A person is a person because/through others”; can be described as the capacity in African culture to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, humanity and mutuality in the interest of building and maintaining communities with justice and mutual caring. More than a descriptor of African values, ubuntu should be seen as a social philosophy that is deeply embedded in African culture.

Leaders with the inherent values of ubuntu, as it might relate to leader/follower interaction, have been described as, people-centered, humble, ready to enter into dialogue, caring, polite, tolerant, considerate, hospitable and as having an attitude of mutual acceptance or mutuality, amongst other descriptors. An ubuntu-based approach in leadership sees community rather that self-determination as the essential aspect of personhood. It is in reference to the community that a person is defined. The Venda saying, “Muthu u bebelwa munwe – A person is born for the other”, captures the spirit of this approach of interdependence between self and community. This is more than mere interdependence, the identity of the “self” is defined in finding the “other” in community. It is in seeing and entering into honest dialogue and interaction based on mutuality with the “other” that the “self” is enriched, formed and defined.

The leadership value of mutuality in ubuntu allows for the breaking down of the superficial and artificial barriers between the “actors” in the leadership exchange and allows both leader and follower to see the “other”, discover their mutual humanity and in doing so foster the construction of a caring community that allows for the respectful tolerance of social, cultural, economic and philosophical differences.

The links between this values-based approach in leadership and the Christian values of kenosis and incarnation are obvious. This needs to be explored further.