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The Last Word

By Frik Landman, CEO: USB-ED

At this time of year I find myself in the period of miracles. This is the time of year when everyone who forgot to do something or to have a conversation with you is trying to fit it in before breaking for Christmas. This is also the period of graduation ceremonies. Those splendid affairs where you experience all the hard work of so many stakeholders coming to a grand climax. I had the privilege of addressing three graduation audiences and gladly share with you some of what I passed on to them:

“Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. Yes, it’s time for grey-haired men to waddle up onto the stage, get a firm grip on the lectern and fill the last remaining bit of a gap in your heads with whatever wisdom comes to mind. 

On a more serious note, though, I would like you to look around this room. See those sitting next to you, behind you and in front of you. A room full of leaders! In different ways and in different places and situations you all act as leaders. 

Let’s take a second look, but this time cast our mind’s eye over the landscape in which we lead. 
  • Currently, it is a time in which some of the worst forms of leadership are displayed. Particularly in the political sphere. 
  • It is also a landscape in which we have the excellent Vision 2030 available in the form the NPC provided for us. It is still in conceptual form, existing as a field of ideas, and it needs intelligent hands, feet and minds to transform it into practical reality.
  • It is a landscape with the dark spot of Marikana, an event that will haunt us for some time to come. Marikana is part of the writing on the wall, along with Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, etc., warning us that the gap between poor and rich is becoming so immense that the social system is tipping over, threatening our social cohesion. 
  • It is a landscape where conversations around capitalism 2.0 are taking place: looking for better, more ethical and sustainable ways to do business; where responsible leadership is required to deal with serious threats like lack of food security, diminishing water supplies, climate change, unemployment, etc.
In the context of this landscape, I want to direct two interlocking questions to you: firstly, how do you make sense of the future in the fog of this present reality? Secondly, why would it be necessary for you to make sense of the future? Why can’t you just receive your certificate, go back to your desk and behave within the parameters of your job description; business as usual? I have no answers or recipes to offer to you. I apologise. I however have possible pointers you may want to consider.

Consider never to stop developing and shaping your minds, your leadership minds. Exercise your minds so that you can have control over what and how you think. This is crucial for your life and influence as a leader. That is what a university education is about: liberation education, freeing up your minds from the shackles of paradigms and dogmas. Avoid getting stuck in doctrines. The best way to honour your lecturers is to understand what you are taught, to reflect critically upon it, and then to go beyond and add your own value to it. When we mindlessly imbibe other people’s ‘truths’ and narrate their arguments, we go around offering recycled opinions of others, and so we uncritically and easily sign up for other people’s quests. I am reminded of Napoleon’s view on these matters when he stated that it is extraordinary what people will be willing to do for a piece of coloured ribbon. Our mind is a wonderful servant but a horrible master. It needs to be in our service and we therefore need to exercise it regularly.

On the matter of why you need to make sense of the future, consider the following. You are leaders. As such you are a leader in society; part and parcel of society. So, when you put up your hand in choosing to be leader, I, as a member of society, would like to hear you utter the same words as the Pope during his inauguration: servus servorum, servant of servants. You serve society, not yourself first. This demands integrity and much responsibility.

If what I have said makes sense to you, I would like to leave you with the words of the philosopher, Daniel Dennet: Go and find something bigger than you are, and dedicate your life to it!

Congratulations on your achievements and may you find the insight and wisdom to make sense of your world in order to lead responsibly in a sustainable way.”​
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