A year ago, I began a new chapter in my leadership journey at the Apolitical Academy as a Public Service Fellow, a nonpartisan SADC fellowship.
I thought as with many awards; I would join a team of otherwise overachievers, learn some skills such as public speaking and be well on my way.
Little did I know I would be propelled into a storm of transformative learning and challenge long held beliefs about leadership.
Leadership is not an abstract farfetched idea. Leadership is a living organism demonstrated through the people that dare believe and put themselves out there as the answer for the issues, questions and concerns of the day.
The demands of leadership in this era are for a more dynamic, diverse and authentic group of people taking the helms.
Leaders that we need are not necessarily perfect but can engender trust and can connect with the people.
However, to connect with people and confront harmful systems, a leader has to overcome his biggest obstacle “self”.
I never asked myself why I would want to take up leadership positions, be an eager beaver, so to say until I participated in this fellowship. I will attempt to share a couple of reflections from my journey thus far.
It began with me confronting my saviour complex, the belief that I am somehow better than others because I help people selflessly.
As a result, for most of my career, I had depleted a lot of myself under the guise of nobility.
The challenge is that trying to “save” someone takes away their agency and sense of responsibility limiting any change to only be temporary. I am not saying that I have completely overcome the saviour complex, but being more conscious of it, I can manage it better.
The leadership journey opened up platforms that were unimaginable to a small-town boy from the dusty streets of Karibib. Similarly, the weight of leadership can be burdensome, burn out, depression, loneliness, and being misunderstood are some of the risks that I faced in my journey.
It is usually easier to engage and talk about leadership primarily from a pragmatic and surface level because we are afraid to engage the nuanced challenges that comes with the job.
Relationships in leadership are critical to building longevity in the journey.
It is almost counterintuitive to be authentic as a leader and to mask our insecurities, fears and internal battles. When you are consumed with saviourism it is difficult to let others in. You are always the strong one, the one that everyone looks to for counsel and this can lead later to compassion fatigue. I had the scariest pleasure of sharing some of my journey with a fantastic group of diverse leaders from the SADC region.
This fellowship allowed me to invite people into the crevasses of my soul to build honest and authentic connections.
They have become my counsellors, friends, cheerleaders, tribe and above all mentors.
Get in the arena of leadership, take the risk and get a team of people alongside you.
We do not have the luxury to be complacent.
As you identify challenges, feel unrest in your soul, maybe even anger at the status quo, begin educating yourself on the issues, build alliances and start to be the answer even in the smallest capacity. We need a tribe of authentic, ethical and transformation leaders in the public sphere, private sector and civil society.
Leadership is a risk but a worthwhile risk. It becomes me, there is an impact that can and should outlast me that is changing lives. Clarity came when I realized that my knowledge, experiences (good and bad), values, energy, passion and personality were forging me into the leader I should be.
Theodore Roosevelt said it best “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Hi, My name is Steven, and I am a recovering saviour.