Values-based leadership – integrity is key

Piyushi Kotecha

CEO, the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation

Our world is at an existential crossroads. Despite our planet having enough food to feed every human being on Earth, there is growing famine, violence and disparity. The United Nations reports that the Covid-19 pandemic has wiped out a decade of progress in the fight against poverty, with 120-million people pushed into indigence in 2020 and the expectation that this figure could rise to 150-million this year. Brutal and horrific violence against women and children in a number of countries, notably Ethiopia, China, Myanmar and Syria, is rife, from South Africa to the United Kingdom to Yemen, and our global and national institutions and leaders are failing to intervene with integrity and intent.

As the Covid-19 pandemic relentlessly continues to entrench deep, intransient, negative trends, it is important to reiterate the power of personal and leadership agency. We need leaders who embrace and practise integrity as a core value. The beginning of this year has brought us dramatic and courageous leadership from women of integrity.

Earlier this month, Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng, a nun in a city in northern Myanmar, knelt in front of soldiers and begged them to shoot her instead of protesters, including children. Sadly, many of the soldiers serving the South-East Asian country’s new military government ignored her plea, made while kneeling amid the dust and rubble of protest, and several of the protesters were shot.

South Africa’s Olympic middle-distance runner Caster Semenya has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn World Athletics rules banning her from competing in this year’s Olympic Games. Semenya is banned because of her status as an intersex cisgender woman who has naturally elevated testosterone levels. Despite suffering years of humiliating public testing of whether or not she can be biologically classed as a woman, Semenya is pursuing this test case, even though her lawyers have warned her it might not be resolved in time for her to compete in this year’s Olympics, due to run from 23 July to 8 August.

From challenge comes change. Our mission at the Foundation is to contribute towards showcasing ethical leaders who have the skills and dexterity to navigate the myriad challenges in creating inclusive and responsive societies if we are to transition into a just paradigm for humanity.

At the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, we are proud to have on our board several dedicated women, devoted to ensuring South Africa’s success as a democracy in which all people, and the planet, are cherished and protected. Not afraid to challenge the status quo themselves and they share the values that they embrace.

Yasmin Sooka is unequivocal that human rights are unattainable without accountability on the part of the state and its institutions. Leaders who have integrity are accountable.

Shelagh Gastrow believes South Africans must choose to challenge narratives that would hold them apart, and that seeking reconciliation, while it would set us on a long journey, is imperative if our country is to become the success it needs to be. “Reconciliation requires forgiveness, mutual respect, compassion and trust,” she states.

Leaders who have integrity also have compassion and are able to build the mutual respect and trust that lie behind forgiveness and reconciliation.

Integrity and compassion are at the heart of ubuntu, which Zandile Gobe holds as her guiding value as “We are all connected as humans, and as we grow up we realise how deep that connection is – umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (I am, because you are).”

This feeling of inextricable connectedness, if we truly felt it, would not allow us to stand by while others starve, or are abused. It would also help us, and particularly our leaders, to feel greater empathy and to reject stereotypes. The developed world needs to let go of its preconceived ideas about people from the developing world, and about their capabilities and concerns. The Covid-19 pandemic is showing the global community that the developing world has scientific and industrial capabilities that too many believed were beyond our capabilities.

Leaders with integrity do not make assumptions, they ask questions aimed at deepening their understanding and address the challenges head-on. They freely admit when they are wrong and take action to rectify the situation.

Integrity helps leaders address even the most awkward situations, and people respond well to sincerity, says Moky Makhura. “I have always found responding to things based on my morals and values is first prize.”

We salute leaders of integrity, astute and humble enough to listen with intent to learn, and skilful enough to take effective actions that our societies desperately need for all, and not only for the few.