Even a cursory glance at history will quickly reveal the importance of human leadership in our affairs. Just cast your mind down the centuries and the names come up – some with a reputation for good, many for other attributes. Change happens all around us all the time and is accelerating and what enables us to manage that process and its outcomes, is leadership.
All of us are leaders in some way – at home, at school, university, work place, company, local government and central government. We can all make a difference in our own immediate spheres of interest. It exercising that responsibility we influence others and change people’s lives.
A few years ago I had the privilege to be invited to Berlin in Germany for a conference on religious freedom by the German Government. Our host was the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. We were a motley bunch as you can imagine, Mullahs in head wrappings, Catholics in their robes, Buddhists and Hindu’s. All of us had only two things in common – we were Members of our respective Parliaments and we were representatives of the majority religions of our countries.
Well it was as was to be expected really – like cats in a bag. Nothing divides like religion and some of us came from countries where religious divides were centuries old and is alive and well. But what impressed me was to be able to get close to the Chancellor of Germany for a few days and observe her leadership. Just recently, when she announced she was stepping down after 15 years in power, the entire nation gave her a standing ovation for 6 minutes. I understand why – it is the quality of her leadership.
She walked amongst us without security, dressed very simply and greeted everyone as if they were special. I had an appointment at the Chancellors office one morning and was astonished to be told it was at six in the morning. Being an African I thought it was most unlikely to be on time but just to be sure I arrived 15 minutes early, to find a PA standing on the sidewalk waiting for me. When we walked into the building everyone was at work. I was told she lived with her husband in a flat in Central Berlin and did her own shopping and housekeeping.
Mrs Merkel grew up in East Germany and is the daughter of a Christian Pastor who stayed in the East right through until the Communist regime collapsed. She then joined the Christian Democratic Union and after a spell helping re-integrate the East with the West, moved to Berlin and ultimately became Chancellor. Arguably the most powerful woman in the world. Leadership in Germany is no sinecure – it is made up of many States, the East remains very different to the West after 70 years of harsh communist rule. Political extremes exist today even after their experience with the Nazi regime under Hitler.
How did she do it? Firstly, she must have amazing leadership qualities and would have excelled in any field she chose. Secondly she had her faith in Christ and the basic principles of the Bible to guide her. The evidence is there for all to see – a stable family life, little in the way of controversy, principled governance and her willingness to stand up for her principles, even when they threatened her grip on power. Giving responsibility and guidance to those who reported to her and making sure that everyone knew where she stood on key issues.
Germany today, leads Europe, Germany underwrites the European Currency and strongly supports a system of economic sharing which has brought prosperity and hope to many countries that were either part of the Soviet Union or on the margins of Europe. Europe is much more equal than many other conglomerates and it is no secret that they remain the largest exporter in the world. Leading the world in technology and productivity. I think we should clone her once she steps down – we could do with more like her in this crazy broken world!
Then there is the extraordinary leadership that is being provided by a strange group of people who have led the digital revolution. Bill Gates started the rush and today he spends his money, time and influence on trying to tackle some of our many problems. Today just 26 individuals control more money as turnover in their respective companies than half the population of the world. The size of their corporations dwarfs the giants of the past – General Motors, GE, Anglo American. These now resemble minnows in the business community.
Do not think for one minute that this great power and wealth was handed to them. They all started out with very little and had an idea that they pursued with total single mindedness. Believe me – they sacrificed a great deal for their success. Like surfers, they caught the digital and technological wave as it was breaking and are now surfing in to the beach. It took leadership, without that not one of those 26 could have got where they have got in life. Managing great wealth is an enormous responsibility. The temptations to self-destruct is there every day. Many in a similar position have been destroyed by the aftermath and the stress involved.
Then there is leadership at a much lower level. The world is littered with examples of failed leadership – Mengistu in Ethiopia, Amin in Uganda, Mugabe in Zimbabwe. But many examples of great leadership – Mandela in South Africa, Siretse Khama in Botswana and now the new leadership in Rwanda and Ethiopia. In my suburb where we live we did not have water for years, then a new Councillor was elected and he met with his constituents and asked what our problems were, He fixed leaks in the pipelines, repaired street lights and potholes and instructed the City Engineers to fill our reservoirs. We got water and he was fired by his Party because he was in the wrong faction. Good and bad examples of leadership.
But all of us can make a difference where we live and work. It is what they call “the power of one”. Two thirds of black children in South Africa grow up in a single parent family, most without a father. Do you need to know anything else about the country to predict disaster? The West is playing with the family, failing to recognise how critical a stable family life is to children as they grow up. We watch the next generation grow up and living with their partners, we do not comment or guide. When the Communist Party in the Soviet Union decided to raise “socialists” by taking children away from their families and raising them in State controlled and managed institutions, they quickly discovered that the generation they spawned could not lead, had no initiative and incentive and difficulty in making decisions. They quickly moved back to the tradition of the close family and even today it is difficult to get a divorce in Russia and China.
The family is the cornerstone of society and any country that plays with it as a social institution is playing with fire. As men we have a responsibility to lead our families in every way – as role models, as mentors and faithful husbands to our wives. Sound “old fashioned”, believe me these are fundamental principles for life. I can guarantee you that every one of those 26 mega billionaires has had a stable and secure home to provide them with the foundations for success.
Angela Merkel is no exception, she is the product of a family where her father was a mentor and guide, in a stable relationship with his wife and following the basic principles of life as laid out in the Bible. If we want to build a better world, a world that will give our children a better life, we can all do what we can to provide leadership in a world and society that has, in many ways, lost its way.