What Responsive Leadership Really Means

It's not just about people in power. It's about empowerment for everyone.

Zamantungwa Khumalo | POWER FM

A few months ago, I was producing a talk radio show on one of the most popular mid-morning radio shows in Gauteng, South Africa.

The first hour of the show is an open line. Listeners can reflect on some of the stories from the previous day’s headlines and share solutions to our country’s pressing challenges.

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Leadership isn’t exclusively for people in positions of power. It applies to every one of us.

An old man, Mandla, called into the show and wanted to share his story with our listeners.

What followed was the epitome of what responsive leadership means to me and a testimony that leadership isn’t exclusively for people in positions of power. It applies to every one of us – regardless of age, profession and title.

Mandla went on air and shared with our listeners that he is disabled, uses an old wheelchair that needs to be serviced and lives in a shack that doesn’t have access to running water and electricity.

He added that he doesn’t have anyone to take care of him and often goes weeks without bathing. He started weeping, as he shared his heartbreaking story on air.

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How leaders respond 

As he was on air, the Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) of Housing in Gauteng called into the show and expressed his concern and desire to provide assistance. He said it was the least he could do.

In addition, the MEC agreed to an exclusive media walkout of Mandla’s residence to inspect the community’s living conditions and arrange for the necessary upgrade where needed.

A few moments later, the local Councilor of Mandla’s residence called in asking how he could provide groceries for Mandla and have them delivered to his shack.

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It was the least he could do.

While this happened on air, one of our regular listeners called in and also wanted to assist.

He committed to hiring and paying for a nurse to take care of Mandla. He said he wasn’t rich or powerful but had the means to assist by paying for the nurse. He said it was the least he could do.

A week later, I followed up with the different parties to check if they had delivered on what they promised. They had done so.

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Stepping up to the challenge 

Responsive leadership has no title, no age group and has very little to do with whether or not you are an elected official or CEO of a company.

Responsive leadership is our ability to take action and actively play our part in our communities.

This includes the caller who was touched by someone else’s challenges and committed to helping their neighbor and the elected councilor who stepped up and took responsibility for someone in need.

Responsive leadership, in many respects, is recognizing that leadership is a verb and not exclusive to people in power.

Empowering women 

We’re often taught from a young age that ‘leadership’ is a male trait. 

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Responsive leadership is recognizing that leadership is a verb.

This disempowers young girls, who grow up to be women and don’t take ownership of their leadership potential.

I’ve already started shaping my world, one that puts responsible and responsive leadership at the forefront.

I’ve co-founded the Thabo Mbeki Foundation Youth Hub, a leadership organization that serves as a vehicle for young people who want to leave a positive legacy in Africa.

I continuously push the boundaries of what a woman is expected or not expected to do, often sharing my leadership story and some of the challenges I had living up to my leadership potential.

For me, responsive leadership means taking responsibility for my role in building a better society and most importantly, recognizing that more can be done if we work together as a collective body instead of individuals.

Today, Mandla has the support he was missing a few months ago.

That happened because we all played our collective part in making it happen, something that can be done at a township level, right up to the global level. That’s what it means to be a responsive leader. goldbrown2

This article originally appeared on the World Economic Forum and was republished with permission. 

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Zamantungwa Khumalo is an Executive Producer at POWER FM. She is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. Her article is the winning entry in the 2016 Global Shaper essay competition on the theme of responsive and responsible leadership.

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