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Published by: William Buckley on 23-Jan-14
Umbuntu, 'We are growing/Growing higher and higher.' Thoughts on leadership as inspired by the life and choices of Nelson Mandela, 'Hear the children, hear thechildren/They are talking to you.'
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author's program note. She was discovered whilst cleaning other people's houses. Even there she had "it". Her employers were so impressed that they taped her singing and sent the tape to a recording company. One thing lead to another and the woman soon to be known as "Lady Africa" was "discovered" by Alan Paton, who gave her a part as a chorus singer.That was in1964.

The poison called Apartheid was in full effect. But Lady Africa had that which would not be denied. Call it talent, call it fate, call it the right sound, call it destiny, call it luck. Soon she was singing to South Africa while showing the world that the spirit of the nation still lived, despite everything that could be done to suppress it.

Her name was Margaret Singana (1938-2000), and she sang her way into eternity with a number you need to hear to get full value from this article. It is "We Are Growing". Despite the fact that she suffered from the consequences of a 1980 stroke, she soared in this1986 comeback which became the theme song for the television series "Shaka Zulu". Go hear it now in any search engine. It is the heartbeat of a great people, a people that Nelson Mandela helped make greater still. Know them... learn from them... fly with them... "Ayoyo, oh, oyo/ Bayete, Inkosi".

"Be a man of greatness now... Be a man of wisdom now... Be a man of kindness now/ This is what you are/This is what to be." Let us begin...

This is an article that will be read by adults... but more importantly that must be read to children... because they need to know and understand that they are the most important people in all our lives, and we all have the responsibility to ease their often frustrating and difficult ways to the farthest extent possible.

Study leaders. Learn leadership from those who lead. Scrutinize! Understand! Emulate!

In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) wrote of how he learned the crucial elements of leadership, large and small, by watching the ruler of the AbaThembu. He was the greatest figure in young Mandela's life... and thus a person worthy of the study.

This person of consequence obviously understood the critical importance of instructing the young. Mandela wrote, "I always remember the regent's axiom. A leader, he said, is like a shepherd, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind."

Now. Not later.

When was the last time you took child in hand, be that a gleeful five-year-old or surly, truculent teen-ager and opened a candid discussion on leadership? In your answer is how much you want that young person to succeed. My father, for instance, Donald Marshall Lant, now very near the conclusion of 9 decades, had at his instant disposal a person whose story he insisted his children know and follow.That person was General George S. Patton (1885-1945).

"Find the man in the furthest trench... Find the muddiest soldier there... Find the man leading from this trench... and you will have found General Patton." We learned he was a man of decisive action... a man who lead from the front... a man who followed Teddy Roosevelt's famous formula for success, "Do the best you can... with what you've got... where you are."

"You wanted to follow such a man... for he was doing what needed to be done. Helping such a one is a privilege, no matter how onerous, difficult, or exacting the task..." As for me, Father, I remember, I remember. Some lessons abide, appreciation for them never ending. This was such a lesson. Select Your Leader.

Luckily, Mandela had his leader close at hand, but not all of us are so fortunate to have an amiable monarch of pedagogical inclinations near. Thus, select a leader to befriend. Here's how to do it...

Start by drawing up a list of local leaders, people you know, know of, clergy, educators, writers, politicians, military officers, civic worthies, union and business leaders. These people, some of whom may live and work in your neighborhood, are more accessible than say, Pope Francis, although you should not neglect His Holiness. He clearly has a most congenial way with young people.

Write (note I did not say type) a letter that mingles unabashed admiration with a plea for their understanding and assistance. Such a letter is a minor art form and goes something like this. (I need hardly say that properly presented, such a missive is irresistible):

"Honored one, I present myself to you for an honorable purpose... to learn from you and become in the process a better person. Will you allow me to know and study you? I am just 15 years old and am at what my parents call an impressionable age. It would be a matter of the utmost significance if you would allow me to be impressed by you and so have your important deeds and actions chronicled by me."

Like I said, properly presented, such a missive is irresistible.

Include your biographical details. You may use a resume, though this is not an (immediate) job application. Your most winsome and arresting photo should be included; (be sure it isn't the classic of you on a white bear skin rug in the altogether.) That may be misconstrued. Add a recommendation or two from an adult, preferably a teacher, pastor, or other eminent personage who knows you and realizes that all future leaders begin here, needing a bit of help to commence their thousand mile journey.

Steps to building a leader. Now you are ready to begin.

1) Deliver your request in person whenever possible. If not send by a carrier that requires a signature.

2) Always include your phone number and e-mail address. Include your social network page.

3) If you have not received a response within two weeks, send an e-mail or telephone your designated leader. These folks are busy; help them out by following up.

4) Be prepared to speak to your chosen leader. Brainstorm what you will say and WRITE IT DOWN.

5) Schedule a convenient time to meet with your leader for that all-important first encounter. Remember, you never get a second chance to make the best first impression.

6) Before the meeting get a scrap-book and collect everything you can about this person. A scrap-book is essential for this project and must be kept up-to-date, especially for this crucial first time.

7) Make sure at least one parent or adult accompanies you to this meeting and testifies to your seriousness of intent and good habits. Be sure to look the part of the young leader for this and all future meetings. Slovenly look and demeanor are completely unacceptable. Too, make sure your cell-phone does NOT ring during the meeting; this is a must.

"Hear the children, hear the children/ They are talking to you."

Whether you've ever considered the matter or not, you must know that every child, of whatever age wants not just to be liked but far more important to be respected and admired, in the classroom, on the playing field, within any given organization or the broader community, or even worldwide. Your help is crucial in achieving this critical role. Are you doing the necessary?

1) Set the objective, ensuring that each child has a leadership goal.

2) Help the child, which means assisting and advising, not doing the work needed. If you do that you've defeated the entire purpose.

3) Ask for regular reports and follow-up. Do not assume there is progress. Know.

4) Praise whenever possible, critique softly but always honestly. This is essential.

5) If the necessary communication between young person and designated leader breaks down, intervene and with deft handling put the matter back on track.

Finally, when the project is well advanced, arrange with your leader a meeting to share the scrapbook with all its valuable insights into the important matter of leadership. Be sure a photographer is present to record this auspicious moment for an awaiting posterity. Send it to your local newspaper; post it online in social networks with appropriate caption.

If you've followed the steps in this article, you may be sure the leader's incandescent smile is real, not assumed. Then ask her for a recommendation... for, remember, leaders leverage each and every action to achieve still greater renown.

Then sit-down and congratulate yourself for you have given your child the necessary leg up. You've done, in short, what good parents do... and you have every reason to feel pleased with yourself, not least because you exemplify the crucial concept of "umbuntu", that is "you are open and available to others, affirming of others... with a proper self-assurance."

"Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu"... we rise not alone, but through other people." And this is the most important leadership lesson of all.

About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Republished with author's permission by William Buckley