Dear President Ramaphosa
Those first three words of this heading were almost my last. It feels somewhat presumptuous that you will receive and read this, but I have decided to write it nonetheless. It’s just a compulsion I have, straight from the heart and thus free from rational limitation and caution.
My head keeps telling me to just stop. After all, my position as a white, graduate, business owner in his 40’s often relegates me to silence and a muffle in the ears of our political leadership (and mostly I also understand why). However, I will persist because I believe that there is a common humanity that we have buried in rhetoric, blame and defensiveness. I believe we need very little encouragement to bring our common humanity back to our daily interactions and relationships. We just need a nudge, and a deliberate counter narrative to some of the toxic negativity that we have been drowning in. I also firmly believe you can lead us back to our common humanity.
I work in organisations across the globe, some are high performing environments where people are valued for their diverse inputs; where trust is robust and regularly tested and strengthened; where conflict and disagreement are managed constructively towards a common understanding and deeper relationships. I also work in many dysfunctional environments where blame gnashes at trust and renders relationships guarded and fractured; where conflict is about winners and losers, rather than solutions and innovation; where the fight gets personal and destructive; where not all people are valued; and where fear and self-protecting behaviours tear holes in the potential of individuals and groups.
Our world seems trapped in a downward spiral of dysfunction.
A colleague concluded that the reason for this is that our generation straddles two centuries in limbo and we have yet to define what this century will be about. In the past, catastrophic events have shaped us, maybe we could be the generation that breaks that pattern.
The trouble I have is that I am simply not sure who or what to believe anymore. The media? Our parliament? My neighbours? Colleagues? What is the truth? What is the full story? Am I convinced I have heard all side and perspectives? Are there hidden agendas? Who has them? I feel quite lost.
Sometimes I feel utterly unwelcome, and perpetually at the receiving end of blame. This has made me mute and cautious about offering frank and direct critique of what I believe is not aligned to our national values. Chances are, the merits of an argument will be ignored and the messenger will be roundly battered – I see that happening far too often (again, I understand where that sensitivity comes from). I just don’t have the energy for that. Maybe I should speak out more – I promise to work at that.
I watch our leaders playing petty, personal, playground games with our problems. They spend more time ridiculing each other, tarnishing individual reputations and generalising swathes of the population. They are divisive and blame-oriented. They are sarcastic and cynical. That is no way to engender a bright, compassionate and encouraging future. I believe you, as our president need not stoop that low.
In the fog of truth and lies, I have recognised that I want to play a positive and constructive part. I just don’t know how, or what to do, and when and with whom to start. I really think you can help.
And so I have one request to you as our leader – of those that both voted and didn’t vote for you and your party.
Please can you talk to us more regularly. Not through the media, or the political spin doctors, but directly from you.
I suggest a 15-min message for our country – every Monday morning – as a kick start to the week. It could be TV, radio, possibly even a podcast, maybe all three.
What would I want to hear from you?
I want to hear what your vision is for our country over the next 5 years – in simple, measurable terms. And I would like to hear that repeated every week, so we can all be clear what we are working towards.
I would love you to repeatedly share the top 5 (and please no more) priorities that will guide your leadership and that we can all lend a hand towards.
I want to hear what you are doing for the next 90 days to help us achieve that, and I want to know what your focus would be for the week ahead.
I want to listen to you celebrate the prior week’s achievements, and what you would do better in the week ahead.
It would be greatly inspiring, if you could follow up these weekly messages with actions and tangible, observable changes.
I would love to also hear a concise story that reflects of our collective values. Possibly based on your admiration and appreciation for a citizen or group of citizens.
Please try to steer clear of the adjective-laden waffle that we hear so often from politicians, use clear words that help us all to understand you. That is how true leaders communicate.
Ok, so maybe 15 minutes is too short – how about 30, maybe even 45 minutes (not longer – we will have work to get to).
I want you to end off by setting the nation a value to demonstrate – drawn from the depth and history of ubuntu. Something that we can get behind and guide us.
So there is it, just 45-minutes of frank sharing with no political interference, no mudslinging, no fanfare. Just a leader humbly reporting back to his people what his focus has been on and what he would like from us as support.
There will be petty politicians who are more self-centered on their power than purpose, and they will try and dismantle your efforts. I encourage you to remain steadfast, humble and honest. Soon we will begin to deepen our trust in you and our future, and those that have built their identities by being ‘other’ to ‘others’ will feel empty and irrelevant.
I know, a nation is multi-faceted, complex and tanker-like in its ability to shift and turn. Don’t be disheartened, there are many a tug boat out there, just waiting for the right tanker to support. We are each energy offering citizens, and you can lead us from an energy sapping to an energy raising nation.
This is not about politics, its about leadership, role modelling, and harnessing the collective.
So please, speak to us, as often as possible. Make it about us, honour us and feel the nation turn.
It may be the evolution of leadership as we know it. It may be the start of defining our generations century.