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Published in loving memory of Dr. Mfuniselwa Bhengu

Originally Posted on March 9, 2014 by MJ Bhengu

For the good of all humanity, we cannot afford not to embrace Ubuntu-based leadership. We owe it to ourselves, our future generations, and our world partners to begin this process. We must begin to use Ubuntu filter in all categories of our lives; the future depends on us. Ubuntu teaches us to view our continent not as a geographical entity, but as our cultural mirror through which we are able to see ourselves, and see the real essence of humanity.

Leadership & Management: Why the two terms go together?

Leadership and management must go hand in hand, even though they are not the same thing. But they are necessarily linked, and complementary. Any effort to separate the two is likely to cause more problems than it solves. However, it is true that there was a time when the calling of the manager and that of the leader could be separated.

The manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.

In his “On Becoming a Leader,” (1989) Warren Bennis composed a list of the differences:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  •  The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

But in the new economy, where value comes increasingly from the knowledge of people, and where workers are no longer undifferentiated cogs in an industrial machine, management and leadership are not easily separated. People look to their managers, not just to assign them a task, but to define for them a purpose. And managers must organize workers, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results.

Peter Drucker, the management guru, was one of the first to recognize this truth. He identified the emergence of the “knowledge worker,” and the profound differences that would cause in the way business was organized (Adapted from “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management” by Alan Murray, published by Harper Business.

Ubuntu Concept

Ubuntu is seen as an important value of African culture that can form the basis of a management truly congruent with the peoples of Africa. Furthermore, proponents argue that Ubuntu can be parlayed into the practice of management for competitive advantage not just for Africa but universally (Mbigi, 1997 & Mbigi 2005) asserts that:

Incorporating Ubuntu principles in management hold the promise of superior approaches to managing organizations. Organizations infused with humaneness, a pervasive spirit of caring and community, harmony and hospitality, respect and responsiveness will enjoy more sustainable competitive advantage.

Accordingly, Ubuntu implies a management approach emphasizing teamwork, attention to relationships, mutual respect and empathy between leader and followers, and participative decision-making. However, and importantly, we caution against wholesale acceptance of all African customs and practices. African management philosophy relies heavily on the past which points to the difficulty of articulating a distinctive conceptualization of contemporary indigenous African culture.

Ubuntu embodies beliefs, values and behaviors of a large majority of the South African population.

Why the Concept of Ubuntu in Leadership and Management?

In understanding the responsibilities that come with our interconnectedness, the realization is that we must rely on each other to lift our world from where it is now to where we want it to be in our lifetime, while casting aside our worn out preconceptions, and our outdated modes of statecraft. This is the place where we all belong as partners, where we all participate as stakeholders, and where we all succeed together, not incrementally but exponentially.

Ubuntu needs to apply to personal, professional, organizational, and governmental leadership. It offers an understanding of leadership in relation with the world. It exudes principles of caring for each other’s well-being and a spirit of mutual support. It moves away from the “us and them” mentality so prevalent in politics, corporations, and traditionally led organizations. It focuses on a way of being, perceiving, and acting in the world. It fosters collaboration in economic, social and environmental situations. It seeks to facilitate emergence of life-affirming, future oriented and opportunity increasing possibilities.

We are living in a world that no longer makes sense. Blame is being cast about with fervor and yet we are not any closer to truly understanding the underlying dynamics that have landed us in this situation. Without that basic understanding, we will continue to perpetuate variations of situations that do not make sense.

We need to shift our thinking and our actions from what is good for us individually to what is good for us all collectively. Individuality is connected with Eurocentricity while collectivity is connected with Afrocentricity. Society needs to take a giant leap forward and we need a guiding paradigm to enable that leap. Ubuntu leadership combines many of the most researched theories and philosophies of leadership and employs practical, tangible learnings that apply to all of us as leaders.

We maintain the answer is the ultimate value-driven leadership concept of Ubuntu. However, it is important to look at how it can be incorporated into our existing dominant leadership paradigm.

Leaders and managers, in any situation, are ever required to make distinctions between competing choices, hence they have to make ethical decisions. For everything we do and say represent a choice. How we decide determines the shape of our lives.

Ubuntu Principles for Leadership Model

Ubuntu leadership model is characterized by the following principles:

  • trustworthiness,
  • respect,
  • responsibility,
  • fairness,
  • compassion
  • caring, and
  • good citizenship.

There is great interest in educational leadership in the early part of the 21st century because of the widespread belief that the quality of leadership makes a significant difference to school and student outcomes. There is also increasing recognition that schools require effective leaders and managers if they are to provide the best possible education for their learners. Schools need trained and committed teachers but they, in turn, need the leadership of highly effective principals and support from other senior and middle managers. While the need for effective leaders is widely acknowledged, there is much less certainty about which leadership behaviors are most likely to produce favorable outcomes.

Secondly I have taken a look at the government position paper of 2008 entitled “Understand school leadership & governance in the South African context”, but here we are looking beyond the South African school context.

African Leadership and Management Philosophy

There is a debate that Ubuntu is not exclusively African but universal. My research is that Ubuntu was developed in ancient Egypt, which is in Africa, by Thoth Hermes, an African from ancient Ethiopia, who was a god. He communicated directly with God. Literature is very rich on this. Therefore, Ubuntu, universal as it may be, it is an African product and an African philosophy, and that is why it is more pronounced among Africans. That’s why Africans live it. It is in their blood. They do not have to learn it in text books or in literature.

In the last few years a body of literature has arisen in response to Africa’s relegation to the margins of global considerations of leadership and management as well as practice. This field of study has become known as ‘African management philosophy’, and defined as:

‘The practical way of thinking about how to effectively run organizations – be they in the public or private sectors–on the basis of African ideas and in terms of how social and economic life is actually experienced in the region. Such thinking must be necessarily interwoven with the daily existence and experience in Africa and its contextual reality’ (Edoho, 2001)

Proponents of African management philosophy argue that Africa’s effort to engineer authentic development will continue to be unsuccessful until endogenous leadership and management systems are established and institutionalized The call for indigenous approaches to management and leadership falls within the broader cry for an African Renaissance that seeks to reclaim the aesthetics and identity of Africans. It is also consistent with post-colonial theory that calls for the colonized to re-claim a culture of their own, a history of their own, aesthetics of their own, all based on an essence of their own, free from and independent of the images of the ‘Other’.

George’s (1968:4-5) The History of Management Thought, offers a more telling in-depth discussion of ancient Egyptian management:

‘The building of the pyramids with a technology that would be considered primitive by modern standards, affords us testimony of the managerial and organizational abilities of ancient Egypt. . . The managerial planning of where the stones were to be quarried, when, what size, and how they were to be transported required the practice of what today might well be called long-range planning. . . By using masses of labor the Egyptians were able to accomplish tasks that astonish us. While their system of organization may appear unwieldy, cumbersome, and even wasteful, they actually had no reasons to economize on labor since more peasants, mercenaries, and slaves were always available simply for the asking . . . We find also that the Egyptians were aware of sound managerial practices and principles. They understood and appreciated, for example, managerial authority and responsibility, and they recognized the value of spelling out job descriptions in detail’

Other than the reference to Egypt, and other countries like Timbuktu, Songhai, Empire of Mali, and Mapungubwe, African management is largely invisible in management textbooks. The emergent voices of African management philosophy are responding to the historical domination of Eurocentric leadership and management practices in Africa. Scholars argue that these practices are inadequate because leadership and management challenges in Africa are embedded in a very different cultural, political, economic and social context. They also critique the stereotypical portrayal of Africa as primitive and the assumption that there is little to be learned about leadership and management from Africa.

African’ management thought is said to emphasize traditionalism, communalism, co-operative teamwork, and mythology. Traditionalism has to do with the adherence to accepted customs, beliefs and practices that determine accepted behavior, morality and characteristics of individuals in African society. In African societies, the family is positioned as the basic unit of socialization. African families are portrayed as close knit and extending far beyond the nuclear family unit concept dominant in the West.

The family system is viewed as the basic building block of any organization in African societies. The communalism of African management emanates from the belief that the individual is not alone, but belongs to the community. As a result emphasis is placed on teamwork and the group. According to African management thought, leaders and managers should focus on promoting the welfare of the entire group and not the individual. Communalistic life is the centerpiece of African personality and is distinctively African. Accordingly, traditional African societies had the capacity to share and care not just for their immediate families but also for their extended families.

African leadership and management continues to be affected by globalization. We must also consider the embeddedness of leadership practice in the culture, economic, technological, and social relations of a society.

The search for ‘African leadership and management’ should draw upon the past but must also inevitably be rooted in the present. The answers to finding leadership and management approaches for helping Africa to solve its problems may be lying right under our nose. We need to accelerate the production of descriptive studies of leadership on the continent.


Afro-Centric Alliance. 2001. Indigenising organisational change: localisation in Tanzania and Malawi. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 16 (1), pp. 59-78, Anyansi-Archibong, C. B. 2001. Toward an African-oriented management theory. In F. M. Edoho (ed). Management challenges for Africa in the twenty-first century: theoretical and applied perspectives. Westport, CT: Praeger: 63-72.

Bhengu MJ (2006) Ubuntu: The Global Philosophy for Humankind, Lotsha Publications, Cape Town

Boon, M. 1996. The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership. Johannesburg, SA: Zebra Press.

Booysen, A. E. 2001. The duality of South African leadership: Afrocentric or Eurocentric. South African Journal of Labor Relations. Spring/Summer, pp. 36-63.

Christie, P., Lessem, R. & Mbigi, L. (eds). 1993. African management: Philosophies, Concepts and Applications. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources.

Dia, M. 1996. Africa’s management in the 1990s and beyond. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

See Also

Edoho, F. M. 2001. Management in Africa: The quest for a philosophical framework. In F. M. Edoho (ed). Management challenges for Africa in the twenty-first century: theoretical and applied perspectives. Westport, CT: Praeger: 73-90.

Ezzamel, M. 2004. Work organization in the Middle Kingdom, ancient Egypt. Organization, 11 (4): 497-539.

Fanon, F. 1968. On National Culture and the Pitfalls of National Consciousness in the Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press 1968.

George, C. S. (1968). The History of Management Thought. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Hallen, B. 2005. African philosophy: An analytical approach. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Jackson, T. 2004. Management and change in Africa: A cross-cultural perspective. London: Routledge.

Kets de Vries, M. F. R. 2004. Lessons on leadership by Terror: Finding Shaka Zulu in the Attic. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

Khoza, R. 2001. Africa’s leadership challenge. Acceptance speech at the UNISA Leadership in Practice Award, 10 October 2001.

Kiggundu, M. N. 1991. The challenges of management development in sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of Management Development, 10 (6): 32-47.

Makgoba, W. (ed) 1999. African renaissance. Cape Town, SA: Mafube Publishing.

Mangaliso, M. P. 2001 Building competitive advantage from ubuntu: Management lessons from South Africa. Academy of Management Executive, 15(3): 23-32.

Mbeki, T. 1998. Africa: The time has come. Cape Town: Tafelberg.


Mbigi, L. 1997. Ubuntu: The African Dream in Management. Pretoria: Knowledge.

Mbigi, L. 2005. The Spirit of African leadership. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources.

Mudimbe, V. Y. 1988. The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Mutabazi, E. 2002. Preparing African leaders. In C. B. Derr, S. Roussillon & J. Boumais (eds). Cross-cultural approaches to leadership development. Westport, CT: Quorum Books.

Nnadozie, E. 2001. Managing African Business Culture. In F. M. Edoho (ed), Management Challenges for Africa in the Twenty-First Century: Theoretical and Applied Approaches. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Ntuli, P. 2002. Indigenous knowledge systems and the African Renaissance. In Hoppers, C.A. O (ed.) Indigenous knowledge systems and the integration of knowledge systems: Towards a philosophy of articulation. Claremont, SA: New Africa Education: 53- 66.

Odora-Hoppers, C. A. O. 2002. Introduction. In Hoppers, C.A. O (ed.) Indigenous knowledge systems and the integration of knowledge systems: Towards a philosophy of articulation. Claremont, SA: New Africa Education.

Rodney, W. 1974. How Europe underdeveloped Africa. Great Britain: Bogle- L’Ouverture Publications.

Safavi, F. 1981. A model of management education in Africa. Academy of Management Review, 6 (2): 319-31

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