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Moral leadership needed to make freedom a reality
Author: Chris Jones
Published: 27/04/2017

On Thursday 27 April we celebrate Freedom Day. In an opinion piece published on The Conversation website on Tuesday (25 April 2017), Dr Chris Jones of the Department of Practical Theology and Missiology writes that we need strong moral leaders who can make true freedom a reality for millions of South Africans.

  • Read the complete article below or click here for the piece as published.

Chris Jones

As an annual celebration of South Africa's first non-racial democratic elections, Freedom Day marks the end of three centuries of colonialism, segregation and white minority rule.  While this day serves as a reminder of the sacrifices many South Africans have made in the struggle for freedom, it also celebrates the dawn of a new democratic government (and constitution) led by former president Nelson Mandela.

Although there has been much progress in many spheres of life since 1994, many South Africans are still waiting for this hard-won freedom to pay dividends. It seems that our leaders have hijacked this freedom in pursuit of their own selfish gains. We urgently need moral leadership, born of sound core values and characterised by accountable management. Leadership determined by self-serving political gain, and the greedy interests of small ambitious groups at the expense of the most vulnerable, must be reprimanded. Such leaders normally feed the world of the powerful, and transforming justice rarely lies at the heart of their efforts.

South Africans have become suspicious of and fed up with leadership that only focuses on political protection and survival. They have little respect for priests of self-interest and worshippers of own agendas. What we need now is moral leadership that brings wholeness and helps South Africans to flourish and reach their full potential. This type of leadership brings deep and lifelong changes to individuals and communities.

The presence or absence of true moral leadership is inextricably linked with the spiritual and emotional maturity and discernment of a country's leaders and its people. The poisoning path of a frenzied avaricious spirit and an overriding narcissistic mentality can dry out the soul of communities and a nation.

One realises, however, the magnitude and cost of true moral leadership. There is nothing romantic about challenging unjust, immoral leaders who are more concerned about protecting their ill-gotten gains than living our constitutional and democratic values. 

The four key-drives theory

The late Harvard Business School Professor Paul Lawrence says in an article that all animals survive guided by two innate drives, or ultimate motives, namely the drive to (1) acquire essential resources and offspring, and the drive to (2) defend themselves, and their property. Humans have evolved to require two additional drives, fully expressed only in humans — the drive to (3) bond in trusting, caring, long-term relationships and the drive to (4) comprehend i.e. to learn, understand and create.

According to Lawrence, good moral leaders hold these four drives in dynamic balance, weighing and balancing conflicting demands. He states that the four drives, when expressed as nouns rather than verbs, yield four important core values: prosperity (resources), peace/trust (bond), knowledge (comprehend), and justice (defend). Just as with the drives, the best leaders attend to all four values simultaneously.

Prosperity seeks to improve every citizen's ability to obtain the necessary resources. In this regard, leaders honestly ask what other people are entitled to, and then promote it at all cost, even if it provokes resentment and anger. This asks restraint and self-sacrifice, simplicity and contentment. Greedy and power-hungry leaders, who only focus on their own success and enrichment, are in the light of abovementioned theory, primitive and destructive. 

Justice-based leadership keeps the other person safe, as well as his loved ones and property, protects their names, and preserves their integrity. This kind of leadership tracks fraudsters and punishes them unashamedly. It doesn't put a veil over injustice. And justice is never prioritized in a leader's interest and/or survival.

Trust that is essential to caring and social cohesion, keeps promises and doesn't cheat. It acts with respect, honor and recognition, which in turn are important elements for peace, reliability and stability. This asks tremendous courage, because one is often on your one, threatened, bullied and even reviled.

Knowledge and expertise to understand ones world, place and role in it is extremely important. It knows the importance of speaking truth and acting with integrity. It doesn't withheld, but disclose. It doesn't mock, but respect. It doesn't intimidate, but inspire. It doesn't manipulate, but motivate. It doesn't bully, but protect. The larger the island of knowledge and expertise, the longer the coastline of respect, trust and admiration.

Good, bright and honest advisors step away from arrogant leaders who think they can keep others powerless and voiceless, and remove colleagues who oppose them and criminalize honest people.  This means that arrogant and so-called untouchable leaders, remain with conformists as advisors, who parrot and protect them at all cost.

The need for role models

Moral leadership stems from a person's deepest sources of life. It is in these depths, the "soul", where core values originate, where they laboriously grow, are shaped and refined.

What we need is ethical leaders modeling core values, in line with abovementioned innate key-drives, and who have the ability to honestly deal with their own weaknesses. This is not an option, but a national imperative .

At the moment South Africa is paying a very high price for the lack of moral leadership – with regard to our economy, politics, education, social security, service delivery, and health services – because certain influential politicians got stuck in a twisted first drive of self-enrichment and bling!