Unpacking ED’s servant leadership

Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
President Mnangagwa characterises his leadership style as “servant leadership”. This term sounds thought provocative and oxymoronic. How can one be a servant and a leader at the same time?

Or how can a servant behave like a leader? If a servant behaves like a leader then chances are they are usurping authority which they don’t have, or they are just a pretentious wannabe.

But when a leader behaves like the servant and serves others then it all begins to make sense.

Servant leadership model puts others first.

It emphasises serving others as a priority above serving personal interests. Thus the central tenet is the procurement of power for the service of others and not power as a way of self-actualisation or personal aggrandisement.

One may ask why President Mnangagwa saw it fit to contest for power.

The answers are simply to reform Zimbabwe’s democracy, its polity, its economic system and its way of doing things. Zimbabweans would simply say, to shift its paradigm.

This desire will make Zimbabwe a middle-income country by 2030.

This is not a push for self-actualisation but one to a desire to actualise greatness in others.

For one to do this they should listen and listen deep and good. This is why this descriptor is favoured by President Mnangagwa who many agree is a listening President.

The question is whether his colleagues in leadership are on board? Are the citizens on board? And is his bureaucracy on board? Is everyone prepared to develop intentness on listening? Will nobody take offence if citizens become who they are? Is his bureaucracy prepared to have a motivated workforce with the leader not hoarding power but giving it to others downwards until it is in the hands of the citizen?

This cultural shift is not easy.

It takes a lot of empathy to be able to cascade the servant leadership philosophy. Empathy is known as the imaginative projection of one’s consciousness into another.

It takes a lot of intellectual identification with the people that are being served.

In this case the populace that overwhelmingly made the choice to be led by President Mnangagwa and his people. This means that those who serve our people must go beyond the basic mission goals and objectives and take the imaginative projection of the feelings of those who use the services they provide.

That is the beginning of servant leadership philosophy.

It will be sad if in a few years this noble objective by the President is found to have been turned into just a fanciful theory by Robert K. Greenleaf.

The leadership needs support to fulfil this agenda.

To support the current leadership is to give meaning to the term “supporting a worthwhile vision”.

It is the desire to serve first which makes one a good leader.

There is need to shift from where people want to lead so as to acquire material possessions.

Robert Greenleaf says that the best test of the presence of servant leadership is whether or not those that are being “served” grow, become healthier, more autonomous or flourish under this kind of leadership.

In this case when incomes improve and a big part of the population is in employment and earning a more than decent income then that is evidence that the servant leadership is obtaining in our country.

Everyone has to pull their weight for things to happen. Our leader is not a lone hero marauding warrior making things happen.

He charts a way and every part of his bureaucratic machinery must make happen.

Our leader is not some Rambo doing a solo battle against some Mujahedeen bad guys. He is the servant who leads this nation to fix the mess we are in by putting in an impossible number of hours.

He has already tried to be as easily accessible as possible regardless of the presence of very bad guys bent on doing him serious physical harm.

The hallmark of a servant leader is one who listens with deep interest to understand the needs of the people and their concerns. They always try to build a consensus.

A servant leader is one who invests time and effort to learn from past mistakes.

This trait is said by Greenleaf to be a mature motivation that comes later in life as people look at their lives and ask themselves about their contributions and a legacy that sustains even after they are long gone.

They then try to lift others to a new level of possibility such as having the whole country turning into a middle- income economy by the year 2030.

During the whole election period the core of the President’s message has been that of peace, love and harmony.

He preached unity and asked for membership to focus on competing ideas and not personalities.

It was always a risk but people were given a free berth to choose leaders of their own choice. The people of Zimbabwe made their choice. They chose President Mnangagwa’s radical reforms. For these structural reforms to be effective, there must also be cultural reforms.

Now, cultural reforms are the most difficult for many to notice but they are more important than even structural reforms.

One should just look at the unearned respect shown to the opposition. It might have been ignored, taken for granted or even spurned but that is a great sign of leader who behaves like a servant. The whole idea is to have a national cohesion.

In the context of our nation, a servant leader is the person whose focus is to build a society free from corruption and poverty, whose citizens’ incomes are in the middle to high ranges.

It is the person that’s employed but sees the employment of others as a very important cog to a happy society.

Based on this disposition the servant leader is the person that will ensure that his country embarks on serious accelerated re-industrialisation, mechanisation and modernisation not for self but for the benefit of the citizenry.

Zimbabwe has changed a lot.

It is OK that citizens don’t notice it as they take a lot of things for granted. For a country that was used to sirens of power every time their leader was on the move, Zimbabweans are now used to a leader whose ego is not massaged by the wailing sirens scaring dogs and animals by warning them that their leader is on the move. This is because he does not rate himself as a paramount leader but a servant leader.

Zimbabweans are now being asked to be creative and change their own country through new ideas and innovation.

Thus power to create has been given back to the people through plans to build up incubation hubs, encouraging innovation and inventions to ensure that “the education sector speaks to the present and future socio-economic, technological and scientific needs of our country”. Someone whose calling is to serve and lead at the same time can only do this.

Servant leadership is supposed to be a culture adopted all round the Government.

In his inaugural speech, President Mnangagwa said:

“I am your listening President, a servant leader. In this vein, those who will occupy public office at any level, under my Government, will be required to exercise servant leadership in the execution of their duties and to be humble and responsive in their interactions and dealings with the citizenry.”

He went further to say: “Equally, the bureaucracy in the Second Republic will be expected to be development-oriented, responsive to the people’s needs as well as exhibit high principles of professional ethics and integrity.”

In this the President is emphatic that institutions of public administration should not behave in a way that suggests that they are insulated from the communities they serve.

Where there is a need to alter methods of service delivery, there should be an appropriate response and such a change put to effect.

The President is looking for a paradigm shift towards people centredness.

To deliver the President’s agenda the bureaucracy should be less legalistic and authoritarian but a bit more flexible and responsive to the needs of the populace. That there is servant leadership, which sets the moral foundations of good governance.

As widely written, bureaucracy should be a tool for elected leaders to execute their mandates, an apparatus for getting things done. It is therefore important that bureaucracy pulls in tandem with the elected leader and adopts the same leadership philosophy. If they are not attuned to the same frequency then something has to give.

Martin Luther King Junior said: “Not everybody can be famous. But everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato or Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

Every Zimbabwean has a role to play to achieve the dream.

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