How can we ignite our 'Ubuntu' leadership?

When was the last time you had a 2-hour meeting first thing in the morning and loved it?

That amount of time in a meeting could risk sapping the life out of anyone, but quite unexpectedly, after a morning meeting with a potential client last week, I left buzzing. I left feeling like anything was possible and excited about the prospects and connections that were made. I left feeling affirmed.

And when I reflected on it, I realised why it made such an impact on me. She had demonstrated 'Ubuntu' leadership.


Ubuntu Leadership

"You what... leadership?"

Well it may be familiar to you, so let me explain. Ubuntu is an African concept (closely associated with South Africa), which in essence, means human-ness or humanity.

At the heart of Ubuntu is the belief that we are all interconnected and belong to a greater whole. My success depends on you being successful. I can not shine, if you do not shine. Its very spirit drives us to view the world through a collective filter, rather than an individual one. Encouraging us to see plenty, instead of scarcity and to include, rather than exclude.

Ubuntu was something Nelson Mandela lived his life by and was popularised by Bishop Tutu when he said:


"I want you to be all you can, because that is the only way I can be all I am. When you diminish and oppress me, you diminish and oppress yourself."


As I said, it may already be a concept familiar to you. In fact, you could argue that 'Ubuntu' just brings together the many theories, buzzwords and approaches that are currently being promoted in our sector. But leading with an Ubuntu spirit is so much more than that. It's not simply a leadership skill, it's a mindset change. A different way of approaching everything we do.

So how can we, as individuals, embrace Ubuntu leadership?


Bringing your Ubuntu to the Sector

It's not easy. Ultimately, we all need to recognise that our ego can get in the way sometimes (even if we don't want to admit it does, or that we have one at all). Here's a few suggestions on how to bring your 'Ubuntu'.


1. Stay in touch with your compassionate side

Recognise that what enables you to do great work is your connections with others, what impact do you want to have on those you come into contact with everyday? Do you affirm them and enable them to flourish? Or do you try to prove your importance, skills and wisdom and subtly help them see the "errors of their ways"? Be honest with yourself, none of us like to think we do this.


2. Encourage a growth mindset

Work hard at creating an organisation that people feel they belong to and want to stay with, by developing and growing your team. And then when they take the skills and opportunities you have given them and move elsewhere, instead of feeling slightly resentful, feel proud that you have supported them to grow so they can make a contribution elsewhere. Acknowledge that you will indirectly be helping another organisation to flourish – knowing that we are all part of the bigger whole.


3. Be generous in your partnership working

Be mindful of having debates in your head about what power or agenda you're prepared to give up or concede. Rather, get creative and passionate about what your organisation can contribute, about what connections you have that will benefit the partnership and make it thrive (...just like my meeting last week, where I have no doubt that fantastic collaborative work will emerge to create real impact on society).


You think you can bring it? Go on... tap into your compassionate side, make and broker connections, work truly collaboratively, and see the bigger picture by leading for the collective.

You can help the sector thrive by supporting each other. So why not put the wheels in motion at your next meeting?

NatWest Top 100
Living Wage
Scottish Government