In reading chapter seventeen of Simon Western and Eric-Jean Garcia’s book, “Global Leadership Perspectives,” I learned there are three leadership issues in South Africa that are most pressing to confront. The first is to de-politicize leadership; that is, to remove the infighting of different factions and put the well being of all to the forefront. This struggle is universal in representative governments, but in South Africa it comes in its own flavor due to its unique past. Democracy in South Africa is only thirty years old and their experiment with it is unfolding sometimes in predictable ways like we see here with de-politicizing leadership. A second issue that is pressing is their attempts to de-racialize politics. White, male Afrikaners held power for over a century in a repressive and unjust system. That changed in 1994 and since then sharing power with black South Africans in the political framework has had many setbacks. The arc has continued in the just and positive direction however, but not as fast as many would want it. The third issue is facing Political leadership in South Africa is the need to de-gender the leadership in the country. This holds true for both politics and in business. Women are underrepresented in both areas and although strides have been made, woman often face the same glass ceiling they do in Western countries.
The country geographically closest to the United States that this book analyzes is Mexico. The text discusses the political leadership situation in Mexico in chapter thirteen. There are similarities with South Africa, such as the male-dominated cultural attitude that persists even today. But whereas in South Africa this stems in part from a Protestant heritage, in Mexico, it arose from the Roman Catholic church. In both countries politics and religion became entangled and one effected the other. Mexico has a much large population than South Africa (more than double: 130 million to 60 million). But both nations have a rich history of the native pollution being colonized and taken advantage. Both nations have a reverence for this past and a distaste for their colonial overseers. Political leadership is colored by this history and the many wounds from the countless injustices are still open. As a result, both nations hunger for a strong leader that can rally the masses, cast a vision for the future, and do whatever it takes to get the country moving in that direction. Both nations have a hierarchical political system in place that makes change difficult but not impossible.
Chapters twenty-one thru twenty-four collectively form part two of the book. These four chapters analyze and reflect upon section one—not an easy task given the broad scope of this ambitious book. Part one represents nearly thirty countries around the world and the book explains each country’s unique style of leadership. As to be expected, there are many similarities and differences. The most interesting part of these chapters is the discovery that of the four leadership models (Controller, Therapist, Messiah, Eco-Leadership), Messiah came out as the most popular leadership model. This archetype of leadership puts forth vision and culture for the organization. It also usually goes hand in hand with a charismatic leader: Steve Jobs, Teddy Roosevelt would be positive examples, Idi Amin and Joseph Stalin, negative. Humans seemed pre-programed to follow this type of Savior/Leader no matter how educated the world becomes.
The other reading this week was Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” He wrote this letter on April 16th, 1963 and he addressed it to his fellow clergymen. He apologizes near the end of the letter for being too long but I doubt anyone felt reading this impassioned op-ed as a waste of time. Birmingham, Alabama at that time was one of the most segregated cities in America and racial injustices were commonplace. Dr. King left Atlanta, Georgia to deliberately confront the rampant racism happening in Birmingham. He was arrested and this letter was penned while in jail to justify his actions to his fellow clergymen who had questioned his activities and labeled him as an “outside agitator.” Since then, it’s become a classic piece of literature that justifies social justice, political activism, and racial equality.
Famous lines are contained in this letter: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and “We know through painful experience that freedom is never given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Such phrases have outlived King himself and have been used by others to echo the same truths around the globe, including Mandela.
The letter is impassioned, yet retrained. King explains his actions rationally, asks forgiveness if there are areas where he has gone too far, but does not apologize for his opinions or his goals. He is a proponent for nonviolence confrontation as he strives to advance the Civil Rights movement in America. His dogma includes bringing to light all injustices and racism but not in a violent way. That would make him no better than his oppressors. All of King’s heart and mind is found in this letter. At times the language soars, poetic in its exultation; at other times the language is terse and tight like the closing arguments of a defense lawyer whose innocent client is on trial.
The content is important to be sure; what he said in this letter will continue to survive and be read by high school and college students around the world. But in a broader view it is a historical document, just as important as The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton or Common Sense by Thomas Paine. It provides us living today a window in to the recent past and to understand how injustices were confronted, the reason behind the oppressed actions and the faith that made the courage and persistence possible.