How does your heritage impact the way you lead through your life?
In reflection of South Africa’s celebration of its colourful diversity, in the shape of National Heritage Day, I wonder how many people have ever truly taken the time to appreciate the significance of their history on the way in which they live and lead their lives.
There is a well-versed saying that goes: It does not matter where you come from, it only matters where you are going.
I would argue that where you come from has a radical influence on your future.
Sure, your future is not predetermined by your past and the circumstances of your past should never limit you. Yet, heritage and history have an undeniably significant influence on who we are. And, when we understand ourselves better, it can profoundly impact who we can become.
Much of our heritage, for all South Africans, will be littered with chapters that cause us grief, shame, anger and a range of emotions that challenge us, and cause discomfort. Sometimes it is hard to face. And easier not to. Rather live in the present and build a future with what we are and what we know today.
But there is a gift in truly acknowledging our heritage, especially if it is something we avoid, or choose not to explore. When we acknowledge, accept, and finally appreciate what it was and how it has possibly shaped us, we might just find some of the elusive puzzles pieces in our reason for being.
So, I would rather suggest that: Everything about where we come from, shapes where we are going. We are shaped by our background, beliefs and values that have been passed down through generations and instilled in us since birth.
When we understand and appreciate how our own cultural heritage can influence our behaviour and how we see the world, we are in a position of freedom to choose our interpretations and reactions. And we can choose the way we engage with and connect to those around us.
I would strongly argue the business case for cultural self-awareness as a fundamental principal of effective leadership, especially in a global workspace. Professor Tara Wernsing of the IE Business school says that “Cultural self-awareness is really a development tool to help you adapt your mindset and become more learning-oriented through enhanced curiosity about sources of cultural diversity, beginning with your own beliefs and values, but it cannot acquired in a tick box way, it takes time to be developed within you.”
In fact, at Lead with Humanity, it is one of our fundamental leadership philosophies that true leadership is not a ticked box. It is not a learned competency, but rather a process of understanding who you are, the leader you are meant to be, and nurturing this personal purpose.
There is a wonderful concept derived from the Iroquios Confederacy, the oldest living democracy on Earth. It is derived from ancient Mayan-Indian philosophy which says that we are connected to our ancestors from seven generations past and we are also connected to our future unborn lineage – seven generations into the future. You take inheritance from the past, you add your ideas and your thinking and you influence seven generations into the future.
This seventh-generation principle is a powerful concept that requires deep responsibility and ownership. The decisions we make today must be considered for the sustainable livelihood of our great-great-great grandchildren and beyond. 140 years into the future, at least. And if each generation holds this true, the world could possibly live with consideration and even generosity, into an unimagined future.
When you know where you come from, you may better know where to go. When you know who you come from, you may better understand who you are.
And, when you know who you are, and you lead out of who you are, your potential to influence your world is unmatched. And your influence may, quite possibly, ripple through generations to come.
What is the heritage you are building? What tracks are you leaving?