Many years ago, I had the privilege of working in conjunction with the UNDP in Namibia as part of a team who took the government ministers away for a weekend to Walvis Bay on a leadership development exercise. The Prime Minister, ministers and all the deputies were present at the venue at this coastal town. As the weekend progressed, the officials grew more relaxed, more readily participated in the debates and became more transparent regarding difficulties they faced in governing their country.
Towards the end of the weekend, it was my role to pull the discussion and topic threads together in the final session and closed with a speech that addressed the issues of proactivity and taking responsibility, acting with leadership in a potentially blame-oriented culture. I ended the presentation by leaning slightly forward on the podium and asked the question: “Tell me something, why do you exist?” There was a deathly silence in the auditorium until one of the officials responded: “Well, Jonathan, it’s obvious, we are the government of Namibia”. I acknowledged the comment, paused and asked the question again: “Bearing in mind the fact that you are the government, tell me, why do you believe you really exist?” Again, the silence was marked, until one of the officials commented: “Okay, we exist to create a financially stable environment so that all Namibians can prosper and grow”. “Good answer”, I remarked, paused and then asked my question again: “Why do we really exist?” It could have been the Minister of Trade and Industry, but the next forthcoming answer was as follows: “Okay, Jonathan, our role is to establish Namibia as an economic corridor so that Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa can trade with ease”. “Great answer”, I replied, but continued by asking my question one more time: “Government, why do we really exist?” After some discussion, we came to the combined conclusion that Sunday afternoon that the Namibian Government exists, not only to lead the people of Namibia, but also to influence the stability and prosperity of Africa – their leadership, within the context of the continent, could have a profound impact on Africa’s future growth, stability and prosperity.
Perhaps our vision of what is possible is too limited, our picture of a potential future reality too small? The big picture has become clouded with the mundane, with the immediacy of the issues that we face on a daily basis, so much so that we have lost sight of the potential influence we might have if we stretched ourselves and our organisations to reach beyond functionality to dreams of making an impact. It is surprising when organisational leadership doesn’t fully utilise the diverse skills and giftedness of staff over and above merely performing a functional role. Harnessing the creative minds and hearts of employees is a key leadership skill, sorely lacking, but done best within an environment of trust and wellness.
Employee engagement is critical if we are going to realise our organisational dreams and goals. The “big picture” for any organisation has a large people component, one that needs to be nurtured and developed. Walter Wriston said: “The person who figures out how to harness the collective genius of the people in his or her organisation is going to blow the competition away”. Perhaps organisational leadership needs to redefine the “big picture” in terms of this collective genius?