Ubuntu – I am because we are

“UBUNTU: (South African) humanity or fellow feeling; kindness.

Collins Dictionary: We must ignite the spirit of “ ubuntu ”—“I am what I am because of who we all are.”

 Here is the story: for over 25 years I’ve worked within a corporate environment reporting to some good bosses, and some terrible. I learned the key to success was to work hard, be creative, practice teamwork and collaborate.

Along the way I also learned about the concept of servant leadership. That seemed to make a lot of sense…the idea that we produce and work with the goal of serving others. I liked that, but somehow the purity of the concept always seemed to get diluted by egos. Yup, even those who preached this idea, were driven by the desire to look good. The human desire to be right above all else was rampant within these corporate organizations.

Ultimately I came to the conclusion that top leadership, even if operating under a lofty mission and promoting “team”, succumbed to the reality of individual ego.

I thought there must be organizations that were able to break down this barrier of ego-- trying hard to practice the principles of UBUNTU.  And for those of you not familiar with this African concept, here is what Archbishop Desmond Tutu says:

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, and does not feel threatened that others are able and good; with self assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belong to a greater whole…”

This means goodbye to the management approach of individual ego, and hello to the collective spirit. In practice, leaders work hand-in-hand with staff, and the deliverable work that is produced is truly the reflection of all that contributed.  There is no single person that gets recognition, as everyone was involved.  And to no surprise this philosophy, in Anglo terms, the sum is greater than the parts, translates into superior problem solving and creativity.

As I was explaining this last night to my daughter, teacher of multicultural youth,   she simply said “Mom this is Ubuntu – I am because We Are.”