“It is in the courageous encounter with others that we discover our personal path and purpose in life… ” – Lovemore Mbigi

Ubuntu – I am because we are

Africa is my home, and I have travelled sufficiently and seen enough of the world to know that this is where I want to be.

“If I have ever seen magic, it has been in Africa.” – John Hemingway

Our continent has a distinctive philosophy called “ubuntu”, which particularly influences the way personal relationships are managed.

Ubuntu: A view around humanity towards others that suggests that it is not through solitude that we discover who we are, but through relationships with other people. It is rooted in the belief that we can only find fulfilment within our extended family and community.

The philosophy of ubuntu perfectly aligns with the rationale that relationships matter and that we need each other, and the support from one another, to be able to achieve our individual and collective goals. This is not only an African way of life, though – it is a global way of life that we should all embrace.


The value of networking

One of my friends at university would always say: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” I think this is a quite extreme statement, but it highlights the value of networks and networking in all the different spheres of our lives.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”

African proverb

The benefits of networking can be endless, and the beauty of it is that if we feel that others are gaining more from it than we are, we can either change that relationship or opt out of it. We can learn from one another, put people in contact with each other, and use the people in our network as a sounding board.

“Relationships are the currency of business.” – Brian Basilico

If we understand how to manage our networks, we add to our resource pool. This automatically gives us an advantage in working towards our personal goal achievement – as long as we can reciprocally provide the same kind of benefits to others in our network. I have found it useful to apply a little more science to network management by using a simple spreadsheet to track things, like people turnover in key organisational positions with which I deal, birthdays, preferences, a previous discussion summary, and outstanding actions.

“Every mind needs friendly contact with other minds for food of expansion and growth.” – Napoleon Hill

If we have strong enough relationships – within our friendship circle, too – then nobody in such a network should in any way hesitate or feel scared to use the network for inspiration or to provide the necessary support during times of serious challenge.

As a final word on networking: Dad always said that in any relationship, we need to keep our side clean. This means that we cannot owe anyone anything in any relationship. This includes forgiveness. It’s a liberating feeling to be able to look someone in the eyes without having any regrets or feelings of guilt between you…


Be willing to receive

I used to be someone who didn’t like to receive, but I enjoyed being able to give something to someone. This included gift-giving. Over time, Marilé pointed out to me the unfairness of my view, and I slowly but surely started to change. At some point, I saw the light and realised that by only being willing to give, I was depriving others of the pleasure of giving something, too. Herein lies the heart of constructive relationships – those relationships that work both ways. In any relationship, we give, and we also receive. This allows us to create a bond with one another. If we are not willing to also receive, then this bond cannot be forged…

I am more interested in the colour of your soul…

One day, after school, Refentse Morake, a 17-year-old Sesotho boy, was messing around with his guitar outside his parents’ home in Vereeniging. A neighbour, Cecilia Marchionna, or Tannie Kleintjie, as she is known, heard him play. She asked him if she could take a video of him singing De La Rey, a traditionally white, Afrikaans song. She posted it on Facebook and within a couple of days, the video had gone viral and accumulated 160 000 views. Now, years later, Refentse has established himself as a popular, black, Afrikaans music star.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Our world will be a much better place if we can all realise that the colour of someone’s soul is more important than the colour of their skin… Consider someone who has the same skin colour as you, but they are a rapist, murderer and menace to society. Compare that person to someone with a different skin colour or from a different culture from you. However, that person shares the same value system as you. They are caring, loving and a blessing to mankind. Who would you choose as a friend? It is more important than ever that we humans unite to embrace diversity and inclusion. Let’s reach out to each other, despite our physical differences, as a sign of understanding that relationships matter, while working towards our common and personal life goals.

There is no such thing as race. None. There is just a human race – scientifically, anthropologically.” – Toni Morrison


Respect is the root of all good relationships

Mahatma Gandhi said that the first principle on which any relationship ought to be based is respect. We might not necessarily agree with someone or with their viewpoints, but if we respect them and their views, then at least we are opening our minds to different, exciting possibilities. We are then also able to engage in interesting and constructive conversations without denying ourselves the opportunity to explore further. Life would have been very boring and stale if we all held the same viewpoint and had the same skin colour, complexion, culture and interests. These differences spice up our lives and make them interesting – as long as we can respect each other.

On the topic of respect, we need to understand that religious or racist jokes, or jokes that discriminate against groups of people, do not exist – because they are not jokes! They are the ultimate sign of disrespect by those who make them. They destroy relationships. They go against the grain of working towards a diverse and inclusive society and can only do harm. As successful self-leaders who believe in building solid relationships, we cannot practise, condone or entertain such conduct.


You can’t give what you don’t have

There is a saying that goes: “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” I cannot give someone something that I don’t have. If I am miserable, I can’t give joy to another person in a relationship. If I am negative, then I can’t expect someone with whom I engage daily to be positive. These are just a couple of examples of why it is so important to work on our successful self-leadership each day. I cannot teach someone else to be a successful self-leader if I am not successful as a self-leader. I can also not inspire, motivate or energise someone else if I am not inspired, motivated and energised…

If I am empty inside, then I cannot fill someone else’s proverbial cup with something good and constructive. We, therefore, not only owe it to ourselves to become better at self-leadership to become the best we can possibly be, but also to benefit every single person with whom we have a relationship – to help them become the best they can be.

John Adair writes in the book, Confucius on Leadership that if we, as individuals, are not inspired, then we cannot possibly expect to inspire others. My interpretation of this is that we cannot give to others what we do not have. Let’s make sure we have enough, and that our life batteries are sufficiently charged to be able to inspire others. Only if we are inspired can we positively influence and impact others.

Complimenting the chef

Leo Buscaglia tells the story of how he once complimented a big, burly chef, and how the seemingly rude man then morphed into the most pleasant person within a couple of seconds. From his story, I have learned to compliment the chef whenever I have an exceptional meal. I have done this in different parts of the world, and guess what? I always get the same pleasant response in the form of a big smile. Why? Because 99% of the time, the chef only receives moans or complaints from grumpy customers. To get a compliment, even that one percent of the time, makes a massive difference in their lives. If someone deserves a compliment, then give it to them. It does wonders to them and you.

“I can live for two months on a good compliment.” – Mark Twain

Complimenting the chef is an example of how small things in relationships can make meaningful differences. I used to be a much stricter dad. Chris, our youngest, is quite vocal about the fact that since I have been married to Marilé, I am a much more pleasant dad to be around. I obviously refute this and ascribe it purely to me becoming increasingly successful at self-leadership! However, Marilé definitely taught me that wherever I go in life, it is important to acknowledge people – even if it is just to look them in the eyes with a smile. I no longer stop at traffic lights without smiling and waving at someone standing there. Even if I am unable to give them money on a specific day, I do this because it makes them feel worthy, and it reminds me every single time that I am no better than anyone else on this Earth.

Don’t let technology ruin relationships

I once read a suggestion that we should do more things that make us forget to check our phones. Technology is great, but only to a point. It is wonderful seeing my parents’ joy during video calls with my sister and her family in Canada. This technological advancement is something that wasn’t freely available a decade ago. Where technology is great for relationships in some ways, it can also be very damaging in others.

Whenever we, as a family, enjoy a meal together – at home or in public places – we play ‘stack’. Basically, all of our cell phones are switched to flight mode and then stacked face down on top of each other on the far side of the table. If we don’t do this, then we’ll never get a chance to work on our relationships as a family by spending quality time together. If we don’t manage technology, this great enabler will become cyanide to our relationships. It could even be a killer when you drive into the back of that idling truck because you were texting someone while you were driving…


Author Dr. Hekkie van der Westhuizen shares practical self-leadership tips, tools and interventions in the form of stepping stones that will assist you along the journey to becoming the best possible version of yourself.


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