One of the most impactful African words that I have ever come across is the North Sotho word “seriti”, meaning breath, spirit, presence or “shadow”. The word, in one of its renderings, refers to a person’s “presence” or the shadow that is cast by the character and personality of the person. This shadow is unique, as no two are alike (only you can cast your shadow). A shadow starts developing over time as a person lives with integrity, is real and true to himself or herself. People, with shadows that are influential, are people who take responsibility, don’t blame, are positive and make choices based on principles.

Some of the great leaders in our world had/have very large shadows – Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, to name a few. If Nelson Mandela walked into any gathering, probably anywhere in the world, immediate respect would be shown and people would be quick to listen and slow to speak. His influence is huge.

On the other hand, it is not pleasant to be around people who are negative, reactive, always blaming and finding fault. If you saw such a person in the local supermarket, you would probably dart into a different aisle to avoid “listening to those same old stories yet again”! The “shadows” and subsequent potential influence of such people are negligible, as we don’t even want to be in their presence.

Leaders behave themselves into their respective shadows. Good rhetoric, on its own, doesn’t develop a shadow – real influence is developed through consistency of character, integrity, vision, proactivity, servanthood and selflessness.  Leaders with significant shadows are influential and leave a legacy.

2 comments on “Leading with influence

  1. Ruth Birk on

    Leading while being positive can be a real stretch for some. It seems that it is much more difficult to be positive than negative. Having had some training I’ve been told if I want to discuss something negative with a person I should say something positive first!! I believe for a negative person that makes it not as easy for them to speak in negative terms. My dad had a philosophy during his term as district governor for Lions … “This is a negative free zone” If you present a problem or concern you had better present a solution as well. We all know that people respond better to positive comments or remarks than negative comments or remarks. Now, Mr. Mills, can you tell us why some people are just never happy or more negative than others?

    • Jonathan on

      Ruth, to be honest, I can’t tell you why some people are seemingly just never happy or more negative than others. There could be a multitude of reasons, however, I do know that people don’t have to stay in this state. With good coaching, this can be changed to a different disposition. It is a skill that can be learned – to be able to see opportunity, possibilities and potential solutions. Helen Keller said that some people spend so much time looking at a door that has closed that they fail to see the new door that has opened. We need to learn to look for these “doors”.


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