“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men” (Proverbs 18:16)

I have travelled to the beautiful island of Madagascar more times than I can remember. Sometimes a forgotten island by many nations, Madagascar has a population of around twenty million people, is rich in mineral resources, unique vegetation, and exciting fauna, and is profoundly rugged and beautiful. I was involved in a nation-building project to re-instil a sense of self-worth in the Malagasy people and awake the possibility of meaningful contribution in various sectors of society – a contribution that was frequently overlooked by those in leadership positions at the time. It was a humbling experience.

One of the most significant aspects of my frequent travel to Madagascar was learning about authentic leadership from a man who was the director of a government training institute (I will call him ‘my friend’ for privacy reasons). My friend was senior in position and even offered counsel frequently to the president of that era but was truly humble and compassionate in approach to colleagues and other citizens alike. His heart for his people, most without many resources that we would call normal and rightful, stood out as an example of a true leader’s approach to the people that he served. My friend genuinely demonstrated the following leadership approaches to me:

  1. Humility – a profound sense that life is not about self but about empowering and developing others around you. The only pride that my friend had was that he had been chosen to serve others.
  2. Vision – the ability to see above and beyond current circumstances to a future where everyone is playing a meaningful role in society. My friend always planned the future with imagination and wisdom (an inseparable pair).
  3. Care – the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something. My friend gave serious consideration to the welfare of his fellow citizens and made every effort to meet their needs.
  4. Dignity – the right to be treated with respect and to be valued as a human being. My friend had a profound sense of the value that God places on people and acted this out with every interaction he had with others.
  5. Communication effectiveness – my friend had the ability to take complexity in life and communicate simplicity through story-telling and breaking concepts down into understandable parts.

Occasionally in life, one has the opportunity to meet up with a person who exemplifies how life should be lived, particularly in a leadership context. I had such an opportunity – my friend demonstrated a visionary and values-driven leadership amongst a people who were desperately looking for authenticity, genuineness, and care. They found it in him.

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