I wish to attempt a fresh angle on leadership and organisation design, taking an integrative/appreciative stance to look at leadership, with the view to finding possible new ‘currencies’ that can play a conscious and deliberate part in re-designing organisations capable of thriving sustainably, I’d like to explore the idea of integrity discussed in context of power, and the theme of cross cultural interaction, with a focus on Africa, whose culture I have long been fascinated by.
”Rather than asking ‘What is leadership’, the question is, ‘How might we understand leadership as a phenomenon?’. Instead of pondering ‘What is charisma?’ you will be invited to consider ‘How do followers make judgements about the aesthetic quality of a leader’s performance?’ (Ladkin 2011, p1).
I have an experienced example of the potential power of words and symbols in changing power relations, and the power of having a tangible premise of integrity as a core attribute for acquiring social status – the cultural phenomena of Heshima on the Island of Pemba (an island of of Zanzibar), where my wife is from.
Elizabeth McMahon (2006) suggests that the concept of ‘Heshima’ played a crucial role in integrating slaves into the community after emancipation. Heshima, which means respect/honour, shows the potential in having a social currency based around mutual respect.
The net result over time was that ‘the ongoing cooperation of social, economic and cultural groups across the island helped to facilitate new identities between slave and elite, moving people into a localised feeling of Pemba-ness.’ (McMahon 2013, p240). This was visible to me in the experience of being in the place where such a symbol holds collective value – it is literally one of the most wonderful places I have ever been to, and is visible in the tangible and long standing local cultural difference between Pemba and the main island of Unguja, which lies within the same overall cultural and historical context (Ingrams 1967, Kresse 2009), evident even in the open-plan layout of residences, and the lack of tensions that arise from silo’d communities. However, there are many other issues that arise in Pemba culture that cannot be seen from their view, which is why integration, whilst honouring diversity, is so important to me.
The way it translates back into my consultancy practice is twofold – it serves as a symbol for the power of honour and respect that comes from displaying a track record of humility and integrity, rather than coercive power (Kamwangamalu 1999, McMahon 2006) – a pragmatic realisation that can be felt and accessed, but not grasped, controlled, or owned – much like ‘ubuntu’ it’s premise is ‘a person is a person through people’ (Karsten & Illa 2005, Nafhuko 2006 p408, McMahon 2006, Swartz & Davies 1997).
Understanding the importance of heshima whilst meeting my wife’s family and travelling there, as well as negotiating parenting values, has also given me practice in viewing through a ‘foreign’ worldview, and experience that our effective communication is limited by conflicting interpretation (Johansen & McLean 2006).
To translate this over into organisation studies, this ‘social currency’ of real effect, is somewhat similar to the broader African idea of ‘Ubuntu’ as leadership / organisation design principle.
<more reference hyperlinks coming>