Karabo Tladi grew up in Mafikeng with an older sister who adored him and a strict single mom who made sure her man-child stayed on the straight and narrow. He found his freedom – and a lifelong fascination with the human mind – at university, where he studied industrial psychology. He’s currently an assistant director at the Department of Basic Education, where he’s intent on opening young minds and unlocking potential. He believes in the power of human connection and joined the Challenge as a mentee. But in his thirty-odd years he’s amassed a wealth of wisdom he’s willing to share.
Leadership and life entwined
Some scholars have labelled leadership as an overused term in organisations. Whether true or not, this viewpoint is self-limiting, because those who work daily within complex organisations know that leadership is, in fact, an indispensable instinct in all successful people. But leadership has nothing to do with a title bestowed upon someone but can rather be understood as a lifelong practice which every human being ought to adopt.
When we’re born, there is a vast void within us, waiting to be filled with all the features of living in this world. We absorb our culture, language, beliefs, preferences and tastes through socialisation from a very young age, and, in turn, we grow habituated to these. They become so imprinted on our subconscious minds that they form our foundational identity. And this keeps us conditioned to certain life patterns that we never let go of – unless we’re willing to alter that conditioning. We’re passive recipients of these patterns, but we have the power to change them – if we’re willing to do so.
Life requires us to take responsibility for our own affairs, and not leave this up to society, school or our parents. The more people are willing to explore and interrogate their own beliefs, abilities and aspirations, the more they start to understand themselves – and this results in self-confidence, peace of mind and courage.
What is leadership and who can lead?
Leadership is the ability of an individual to visualise an end, and to electrify others to work in harmony towards the successful attainment of that end. A simple definition is that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. This definition captures the essentials of being able to inspire others, and of being prepared to do so.
Every single human being has been naturally designed for leadership. This sort of instinctual leadership may be referred to as self-leadership, and it implies having a developed sense of who we are, what we can do, and where we are going, coupled with the ability to adapt our communication, emotions and behaviours on the way to getting there.
According to Robin Sharma, people do not need titles to be leaders. In his book, The Leader Who Had No Title, Sharma talks about four leadership conversations that stimulate leadership in individuals:
- You do not need a title to become a leader – this refers to the courage that each person requires in order to drive their passions and turn their dreams into reality;
- Turbulent times build great leaders – challenging times in work, academics, and business are great opportunities to transform our realities;
- The deeper your relationships, the stronger your leadership – while creating strong, lasting companionships in life and business, one develops a sense of keen justice and empathy, which is essential for strong leadership; and
- To be a great leader, first be a great person – arguably the most important aspect, the person who aspires to leadership must first be a great human being before they can even dream of being a great leader.
An instinct for leadership
Leadership is all about self-knowledge, transformative vision, emotional intelligence, thought management and the capacity to carry others along with us. For us to successfully ‘lead’ ourselves and, hence, to lead others, we need to embrace the following:
- Definiteness of purpose – knowing exactly what you want and why you want it.
- Self-knowledge – taking stock of your abilities, strengths and limitations.
- Strong vision – the ability to see beyond what the eye can see, and to set big goals to accomplish in the near or far future.
- Faith and perseverance – the ability to persist, even in the face of temporary defeat; the possession of self-efficacy.
Life lessons Every single adult has a certain sad story to tell about their childhood or upbringing. This narrative is often referred to as the ‘so what story’ – in other words, we’ve all had our share of misfortune, we’ve all faced challenges in various forms, we all come with baggage. However, in spite of this – or perhaps because of this! – it’s still important to remain a leader and have a cemented sense of self-efficacy, as mentioned above. It’s therefore absolutely critical to take responsibility for one’s life, and to set life and career goals in order to secure a prosperous future. But we’ve got to be willing to lose those lifelong patterns that no longer serve us.