UCT Graduate School of Business - 14 November 2013

Attuned Leadership: African
Humanism As Compass
at the UCT Graduate School of
By Dr Reuel Jethro Khoza
14 November 2013
1. Why the Ubuntu Perspective
2. Attuned Leadership Defined
2.A Attuned Leadership – A Universal Challenge
3. Nature – Nurture & Attuned Leadership
4. Dimensions of Attunement
5. Crucial Personal Qualities
6. Orchestral Music as Attuned Leadership Metaphor
7. The Attuned Leader and Moral Authority
8. The Attuned Leader and Opportunity Identification
9. A Sense of Efficacy and the Attuned Leader
10.Individualism vs Collectivism & the Attuned Leader
11.Role of the Intelligentsia
12.Being and Becoming
1. Why The Ubuntu Perspective
“Until lions have their own historians, all stories
about hunting will glorify the hunter” African
2. Attuned Leadership Defined
reasonableness and the determination to be effective
predicated on knowledgeability – what I call a sense of
efficacy – are the keys to attuned leadership: Leadership
which is reflective, resonant, values-based and vision-led.
• A leader who forms deep and durable reciprocal
relationships within the community or organization can
step boldly into an uncertain future with the certainty
that the followers will lend their support behind.
Leadership is about sense and sensing, about thought
and feeling, about insight into and harmony with the
followership. I call this attuned leadership
• The leader cannot stand alone but must stand with the
followers, interpret for them, strive to fulfil their
hopes, and be their champion in the struggles of life.
Leadership is achieved, not given. The leader’s moral
authority is fashioned in the encounter with
community. The power to lead is the product of
support for a person whose actions bespeak solidarity
with the needs and aspirations of the many.
• I have come to use the term “Attuned
Leadership” to describe the quality of leaders
who are attuned to the hopes, expectations,
fears and demands of their followers. An
ethic of service lies at the heart of Attuned
Leadership, however, is a universal calling. It is a feature of
politics, business, civil society and family matters. It is
everywhere and it involves everyone. Those men and women
who lead us successfully are co-ordinators rather than
controllers. Their moral stature arises from dedication to our
cause. We admire them not because they are powerful; they
are powerful because we make them so, and they are admirable
when they provide clear vision and positive direction. Cabinets,
Boards and Foundations all need leaders. People need leaders.
But we should never forget that leadership represents a
meeting of the spirit between persons and communities.
3. Nature – Nurture & Attuned Leadership
Leaders are not just born to the role. They are born, then made – and
sometimes unmade- by their own actions. A leader who is not in tune
with the followership soon becomes a leader in limbo and sooner than
later withers.
Former President, Nelson Mandela, never fell into limbo as a leader. I
am not likely to cite anything new in the moments of his life that has
been highlighted previously in news reports, books and documentaries.
What I seek to do is reconstruct the record to reveal the inner workings
of attuned leadership in the hands of a master.
Throughout his political life, Mandela has demonstrated Aristotle's
principles of practical wisdom concentrating on the common god and
putting his leadership skills at the service of his followers.
The attuned leader ensures that he or she bridges the dualisms
of leader and led, self and community, person and people, I am
and you are, we are:
• Being self –attuned as a leader and emotionally intelligent
• Being attuned to the situation, knowledgeable, capable and
• Being attuned to the needs and aspiration of followers.
• Being attuned to the moral imperatives of integrity, efficacy
and humility.
• Being attuned to history, the present and destiny.
Insight: seeing the world from the followership’s vantage point and
embracing their world views non- judgementally, ‘to walk in their
moccasins,’ so to speak. Attuned leadership is thus passionate as it
is compassionate.
Inspiration: Engendering a sense of follower self – worth, pride in
current status and hopefulness in the future. In the relationship of
leader led, it is vital to strike a balance between reality and
Commitment: Ardently pursuing an agreed course of action but
remaining willing to be flexible and respond to changes in the
environment or expectations.
Probity: Assuring the followers that the leader can be held
accountable. Probity is the ethical imperative to remain upright and
honest in the service of the followership, and behaving in a manner
that is beyond reproach.
Leadership orchestrates complexity. The metaphor of musical
harmony (including disharmony) is germane to Attuned
Leadership. The phrase attuned leadership anyway contains this
metaphor with all that it implies about an ensemble of separate
players all mutually tuned to perform together. Harmony does
not mean unison, by the way. Only a dictator demands total
unison from the subject people, using terror and propaganda to
impose conformity. Instrumentalists in an orchestra rarely harp
on a single note but instead make music from many lines of
melody in counterpoint. In the same way, leadership relies on
the combination of talents in the community to deliver a
command performance. An attuned leader seeks consensus
amongst the followers (harmony), but will settle for sufficient
consensus allowing for some disagreement (disharmony) to be
voiced as a healthy sign of tolerance for differences of opinion.
My daughter Munene Khoza, as a student of the arts, helped me to full
appreciation of the metaphor when she wrote:
The basic conventions of music present the ensemble with a common
language and means of cohesion. However, the role of the conductor
extends far beyond donning the cheekily archaic tail-coat tuxedo and
affording his musicians a steady beat to latch on to. It is the
conductor's task to use convention as a point of departure from which
to draw from his orchestra a performance that is characterised by the
notions of favouring the collective over the individual and the beauty of
inimitable interpretation over uninspired recitation. The invariable
potential of the collective and the journey from page to performance
hinges on the conductor's talent to observe, cultivate and optimise
talent in others.
Munene puts her finger on the essence of
inspired leadership by contrasting dullness with
“the beauty of inimitable interpretation”: there
has to be something rousing in the leader’s
vision to motivate a strong following.
7. The Attuned Leader and Moral Authority
The moral authority of the attuned leader rests squarely on the
community’s appreciation for the personhood of the leader. Personhood
is the term to describe not just personality but the achievement of
respect in the eyes of others. Those who prove to be effective leaders
are individuals who seek power not for its own sake but to be of service
to their fellows. It is this that gains them approbation, conferring the
moral worth of personhood on their shoulders. It is this that gives them
the confidence to forge ahead knowing they have won the trust of those
who yearn to be led. It is personhood that lends leadership its being.
The attuned leader takes direction from a deep spiritual bond with the
followers and in placing himself or herself at their service is bound to be
reflective, principled, and dedicated. Moral authority can never be built
on superficiality, opportunism, or self-centredness.
8. The Attuned Leader and Opportunity
The attuned leader in today’s world sees opportunities and solutions
that others do not. But he or she also knows that the direction to be set
has to accord with what followers believe, want and need. Visions of
the future ought to be congruent with the history that has shaped
people down to the present – or the leap from what is, to what could
be, is likely to be an ungainly lurch that falls flat. Failure to make the
connection between hope and achievement, between past, present and
future, is also a failure of value-creation. Leadership can only succeed
over the longer term by sharing the values and aspirations of the
following, and this means being able to distinguish between that which
is expedient and populist, and that which is serviceable and honest. It
takes insight, empathy and discipline to achieve resonance with
followers – and these are the personal and group qualities that Ubuntu
9. A Sense of Efficacy and The Attuned Leader
To maintain trust over time, the leader must demonstrate efficacy
that is, show that the community’s power to change things for the
better is real and that real change can and does occur. The attuned
leader achieves this by:
Plumbing to the heart of one’s own motivations in order to be
emotionally intelligent in dealing with others;
securing consonance with the followership’s desires and
disappointments, respecting their human worth, and striving to
meet their needs effectively;
basing every word and act on a principled approach to problems
that is informed by knowledge and study;
sharing the followership’s sense of where they came from where
they are, and where they are going, their history and sense of
10. Individualism vs Collectivism & The Attuned Leader
“I think therefor I am” (Cogito ergo sum)
“Umuntu ngamuntu ngabantu” – (I am because you are, you are because we
When I was studying corporate governance as a younger man, my lead mentor –
concerned about what he regarded as my woolly African thinking – advised me
that I should reconsider my faith in Ubuntu as an intellectual framework. It was
time to abandon the soft thinking informed by “I am because you are, you are
because we are” and adopt the ‘intellectually sounder and more useful’ Cartesian
‘I think, therefore I am’. For my mentor, this was the right starting point for
success in business and in life. Think, young man, think, he insisted. I did think
and it troubled me to deny him. He shook his head kindly, but despairingly, as I
clung stubbornly to my heritage and went on in my soft and muddled way.
Tough I felt he was wrong there was no way for me to counter the intellectual
arrogance that his advice – however well meant – represented.
As an initiate into corporate governance and the intricacies of company directorships, I was
there to learn and absorb what I could of the disciplines of business. I was not about to launch
into a metaphysical disquisition on the strengths of my African worldview. I would certainly
have been worsted in any debate. Little did my mentor – or I, for that matter – suspect that
years later I would come to the realisation that Ubuntu could and should be rigorously defended
against doubters and critics, and indeed, strongly advanced as the basis for a better wold and
better business practices.
The force of the statement ‘I am because you are’ may be grasped in a moment by comparing it
with what my mentor wanted me to embrace. Arguably the most famous statement of being in
Western philosophy, ‘I think, therefore I am’ (cogito ergo sum), was coined by Rene Descartes
in his Mediations on First Philosophy in 1639. Significantly, while no one knows who coined the
term Ubuntu – a fact that in itself signifies its deep communal roots – it was a single individual,
on a known date, who broached the idea that thoughts in a person’s mind prove that person’s
The contrast is striking. Ubuntu posits a collective existence; the Cartesian worldview rests on
individual identity. In Descartes’ view, a person is an entity separate from others. The person
may know him- or herself only by means of conscious thought. This is a far cry from reflecting
that one human life is the product of all other human lives. In African humanist terms, one’s
existence does not depend on what one thinks in the lone citadel of the mind, but on social ties,
common values and ways-of-seeing, and empathy with others. It is an all-embracing
intellectual, emotional, spiritual and psychological acknowledgement of commonality.
11. Role of the Intelligentsia
Intellectuals by and large provide the thought-through leadership of
society: connecting ideas with deeds. They ground morality and political
strategy in patterns of understanding that give meaning and purpose to
social action. They expound principles. They fashion programmes. They
dwell on problems and find concepts and words to suggest the
solutions. Intellectual activity may appear like a selfish and withdrawn
exercise if the intellectual is the retiring type. In Africa we expect
intellectuals to be engaged in dialogues with their fellow men and
women, whether rich or poor, educated or not. In other words, we
regard intellectuals as the compass-bearers of our day and age, the
voices of our communities, and the standard-bearers of our causes.
They are human like all of us and are not set apart as a kind of priestly
elite to lord their learning over us.
Unfortunately the ‘thinking class’ in modern society has become
exactly that: a disconnected elite whose technical and specialist
skills equip them as ideal allies of dominant political and
economic factions. The kind of intellectual engagement we most
often witness takes the form of competition between thinkers
serving those who strive to occupy the commanding heights of
society. Intellectuals who take part in these games are really
serving masters who have their hands on power and resources.
By furthering the interests of these masters they stand to reap
the substantial rewards that accrue to the bright, the
knowledgeable and the witty. They are companions of fortune.
Of course, if fortunes change they will sell their aptitudes
12. Being and Becoming
In metaphysical terms Ubuntu is first and foremost a statement of
being – the ‘ I am’ in all of us. It declares that each of us, in our
separate lives, draws existence from the collective and that we are
only persons through other persons. It does not stop there. The
divine and everlasting spirit of the Almighty unites us, while our
ancestors, who leave us for the world beyond the grave, are ever
present to remind us of our spiritual bonds with and duties to the
community. We all exist in the light of the Great Spirit.
The reach of this metaphysics is enormous. Its repercussion flow
through all subsequent statements about who and what we are.
- Ontologically, how we should see the world.
- Epistemologically, what our knowledge amounts to.
- logically, what is reasonable.
- Ethically, how we should act for the good of all.
- Aesthetically, how beauty can be collectively perceived.
- Politically, how decisions should be made.
13. Vision
To be Africa’s most admired bank by our staff, clients, shareholders, regulators and communities
Great place to work
Great place to bank
Worldclass at
managing risk
Great place to invest
Green and caring bank
Excellence in
productivity and execution
Culture of
Highly involved in the
At the forefront of
collaboration and innovation transformation and leadership community and environment
Member of the
Old Mutual Group
Banking and selected
financial services provider
Bank for all
banking network
Integrity │ Respect | Accountability | Pushing beyond boundaries | People-centred
14. Conclusion
Ubuntu, as a state of mind, should be capable of resolving these and other
conflicts. It has the advantage of not being an organised religion, although we
can and should institutionalise our humanistic faith.
Not as a church, a
constitution or Sunday or Sabbath ritual, but in the form of community structures
– secular in form and programmes but spiritual in context.
No philosophy has yet fully resolved the conflicts and contradictions of modern
life, such as those arising from the breakdown of family life, sexual practices,
poverty, capitalism, communism and socialism. So why should African humanism
be expected to be a cure-all? It has been savaged by European colonialism and
overzealous missionaries with their racism, we have never been able to teach
Ubuntu formally in schools, colleges and universities.
To institutionalise is
therefore to insist on the inclusion of African history, sociology, psychology,
geography, cultures, to be taught throughout informal and formal education. If,
as we argue, African humanism is inclusive rather than exclusive, we can have no
fear or being accused (even by Africans!) of establishing a ‘bantustan’ (ghetto) of
ideas. To institutionalise the idea is also to restore Africa to ourselves, to take
charge of our cultural growth rather than be educated for other people’s purposes.

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