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Leadership Styles – Seretse Khama

The following outtake is focused on exploring examples of different effective leadership styles. The extract is taken from a recent exclusive recording of an MMC Moments of Truth discussion between Stephanie Leigh-Rose, education and media director at MMC Learning and Malcom Johnston, who is a consultant providing strategic support and coaching to businesses having become a leader in customer-centric growth through his years of experience of creating and running strategic marketing, sales, and management functions across multiple businesses.

In this extract, Stephanie and Malcom talk about the unique and inspiring leadership style of Seretse Khama of Botswana during the de-colonisation of the country in the 1950’s and 60’s and its difficult transition to independent leadership.

Watch the 8 minute video below for some expert insights in to a prime historical example of an inspiring leadership style.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

Leadership styles. So, in this section, we’re going to be taking a quick, little, informal look at some leaders and their varying leadership styles. Next up.

Malcolm Johnston:

Seretse Khama. For those of you watching this who may not know- it’s a wonderful and very emotional story- Seretse Khama was the first premier of Botswana after the British left, or as Botswana was being de-colonised. He had a number of challenges on his plate because there was the turbulence of moving away from being a part of the British Empire at that time.

He had what we now know would be called an authentic leadership style, a style that was visionary.

The first challenge was that he was relatively young when he took over, in a society where it was typically the elders who were expected to become the next leaders, and, the country was becoming a part of the Commonwealth with a fully native parliament and decision-making bodies, and that’s a lot of change to deal with.

The typical way of dealing with that in Botswana, which was called Bechuanaland at the time, would’ve been using small meetings of tribespeople, bringing together their elders to decide things.

Now, he had been educated in the UK, so he had a different view and way of managing. He’d studied hard and looked at the way that the British were running the country as a protectorate, and he came up with some different ideas for its effective rule. He started talking through the potential future leaders of Botswana- with the people, and he was actually discussing a potential future.

His picture of the future was around no rancour with the British, who were leaving, and about working together. Now, don’t forget he wasn’t just talking about working together, whites and blacks. He was talking about across tribes. Because like many African countries, there are different tribes within each country.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

And just for our students, what were the years that this was happening during?

Malcolm Johnston:

This is in the ’50s and ’60s.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

Okay, just so they have some context.

Malcolm Johnston:

So I would say he was a visionary leader, democratic even. He looked to build consensus.

He was really about trying to define and drive the country in a different direction to the examples of some of the other countries around him. So don’t forget there’s South Africa, it’s a huge country, there was apartheid, but it was very influential at the time.

Botswana, at the time, in contrast had few discovered, natural resources, lots of turmoil and turbulence, as did many of the other countries in the same area who were changing from a colonial environment into independent nations, not always successfully. Seretse wanted to encourage people by coming from the heart, so he appealed emotionally to his people, which is one of the elements that we’re going to talk about.

The other challenge he had, is that he brought back to Botswana, his white, British wife, which was exceptionally unusual in those circumstances. There was an element of prejudice levelled against him from his own community at his having taken a white wife, that he had to overcome.

In short, because he was a visionary and democratic and affiliative in his stance, he overcame these challenges by taking, if you like, what we might call in business terms, the operations level, tactical level, people with him. In the face of opposition, he actually converted those people to his cause, who would end up being his senior management team and actually utilised their strengths.

As a result, or partially as a result, Botswana is a shining example in Africa of how to run a country. It is relatively wealthy, relatively stable, relatively free of corruption. I’ve been there twice, and it is a beautiful country to go to, not just in terms of the landscape, but the people and the relationships cultivated. White people can just be seen as part of the colonial history in a certain sense rather than hostiles. I’ve only ever found great humility and happiness there and I’ve travelled, not in the cities, but in the Outback, it’s a very welcoming environment.

So, his legacy lives on and I suppose that’s one of the other tenets of a good leader is that X years later, one looks back on how they led their countries or businesses, and people are still talking about them.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

He’s very inspirational too, because he was talking the talk and walking the walk in his personal life and his public and political life.

Malcolm Johnston:

I suppose one of the things that he had was charisma. Now, Jacinda Ardern comes across very well as a communicator and she was exceptionally good at communicating during lockdown and during the immediate aftermath of that terrorist attack. Shinzo Abe was very good at communicating, within the context of Japan, he probably was charismatic, but as we’ve said before, having too much charisma in Japan is not considered acceptable so that’s challenging there. But Seretse Khama, if there was a textbook example of charismatic leadership, which we’re going to go on to talk about, I get the impression, reading books about him, and being there and having spoken to people in Botswana about him, that he is still talked about by Botswanians as the father of the country.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

That’s amazing, thank you!

Malcolm Johnston:

We hope that gives you some sort of idea, informally, of an example of leadership, and characteristics of leaders in the past.

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