Transcript: The Culture of Ubuntu Leadership (EP60)
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Brendan: Hello and welcome to The Culture of Things podcast. I'm your host, Brendan Rogers and this is episode 60. Today I'm speaking with Jodie Hill. I'm going to read a little bit of Jodie's bio and then we'll meet the woman herself. Jodie is the founder and director of Custodians of Change, which is a company focused on educating the world towards self-sustainability and self-worth.
She's been on an entrepreneurial journey for over 30 years. Jodie's passion is helping everyone expand their talent, be authentically who they are, and linking learning to serving a purpose outside of themselves, thereby increasing their self-worth and their net worth. She loves to think about the things we do daily that can impact the legacy and difference we make long after our time here.
She's a coastie with a slight South African accent after living in South Africa with her husband and family for many years. The focus of our conversation today is Ubuntu Leadership. Jodie, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast.
Jodie: Thanks, Brendan. That was a cool intro. Hi, everyone. It's so great to be here.
Brendan: Jodie, it's fantastic to have you on board. Funny, I interviewed another coastie a few weeks ago now, Amber. Amber lived up in Kariong, so probably only 10 kilometers from each other. We're a bit the same, except you're in a different part of the coast down in Avoca. I'm at Springfield, probably 10 kilometers from each other again, but we can't even spend some time together face-to-face. It's crazy, right?
Jodie: Yeah. At the end of our 10th week, it's just an interesting time.
Brendan: Absolutely. Jodie, this topic today, Ubuntu Leadership, is absolutely fascinating how this has all come about to me. I'll give the listeners a little bit of background. I had not heard of this term, Ubuntu Leadership, ever. Somebody referred me to a movie on Netflix called The Playbook, a fantastic show.
Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics basketball coach, and this term—Ubuntu Leadership—came up. I'm like, wow, this is awesome. Watched it through and it really resonated with me. Then not too long after, I met you. You've got origins in South Africa and you started talking about this Ubuntu Leadership and stuff like, how does the world work? This is crazy. We just had to do a podcast on it, right?
Jodie: Absolutely. It's just such a beautiful way of being. I think that's the best way to describe it. I think that it's something that everyone can have a piece of, which is what it's about.
Brendan: Let's get into it. Jodie, you tell us, what is this term Ubuntu Leadership? Maybe dig into a bit of the philosophy around it, where it came from.
Jodie: I might just start with a little bit of background about Ubuntu, its origin, and what it is. Really, it's about a humanity towards others. It was something that was verbal. It wasn't written down because a lot of people actually couldn't write. They used to translate the meaning of Ubuntu. It was something that was lived through verbal storytelling and things like that.
It came from sub-Saharan Africa in Goony languages. The word Ubuntu actually comes from the Zulu and Xhosa languages. Ubuntu in Xhosa actually means I am because we are. That's so beautiful. It's that universal bond of sharing that connects humanity. It's an emphasis on humaneness if that's what they call it or personhood.
During the 1990s when apartheid ended, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, which we are all familiar with, brought that ideology to light in post-apartheid South Africa as a vehicle that could bring about harmony and cooperation among its many racial and ethnic groups. I think that helps a lot because we think to ourselves, it was something that was just lived, but now what it then became was something that everybody knew about.
I have to say one of Nelson Mandela's quotes here was that, in Africa, there was a concept known as Ubuntu and it was the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others. And that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will be in equal measure due to the work and achievement of others. I think that's huge. Basically, this is linked, of course, to leadership and leadership of the future because it involves that collaboration, connectedness, and the need for the whole team to go on the journey together.
That's the point where they say the individual can only say, I am because we are. Since we are, therefore I am. Things aren't separated, they're together. I think Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Tutu said, "You can never win a war against terror as long as there are conditions in the world that make people desperate", which is that poverty, disease, and ignorance. Ubuntu was about education of bringing that education to life of the way we are as human beings. It starts with you as a human.
I think that really helps to nail it. The actual philosophy—just to encompass it together—was about preparing people for life. That's what the Ubuntu philosophy came from before we go into that leadership quality. What it meant, it was encouraged early that children would actually be getting prepared for life. They were encouraged to go on hunting expeditions at a very young age and the success would earn their status and respect within a community.
It was also to help them develop that discipline in their life. But there are four things, I think, that the philosophy—to make it really simple. The first one is respect. Everyone could show empathy. They used to say everyone can show empathy, like, we know how to show empathy. But if you fail to show respect, then it's just futile.
It was the basis that even a stranger deserved respect. It was two-way respect. It didn't matter about what race you're from, what level of wealth you were, or where you came from. It actually was about respecting one another. That was the first part of the philosophy.
Then the second part is fellowship. Fellowship is about caring for others. It's umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. I had to get my helper who's from the Ndebele tribe to help me practice because I didn't want to be disrespectful in the way I say it. So I did a little bit of Zulu when I was living in Africa for 16 years. It's really hard because in Australia, when I grew up, I didn't learn any languages, so it's so hard to learn these languages.
Brendan: Can I say, I think you've done well. I have no idea whether you have. I think you have
Jodie: You would know, though.
Brendan: No idea.
Jodie: It's beautiful. The language is just so beautiful to listen to. She was doing it via voice notes to me because my helper was part of the fellowship, the caring towards each other that we had, the relationship we had. It's about, also, even that commitment to work. She had a commitment to help keep my house in order, and I had a commitment to obviously provide her with what her family needed as well.
Here with the fellowship, it's like a person can only be a human through other human beings. What I mean by that is that for the philosophy side, a gogo is like a grandmother in Africa. She's called a gogo. The elders played a significant role in the education and the raising of children. We actually get wiser supposedly, as we get older.
Brendan: Some of us.
Jodie: Yeah, some of us. If you imagine, the gogo would actually be the one that would help bring up the grandchildren, and then the children would go out to actually work and make the money. They would use wisdom. There was a lot of wisdom in that fellowship and it was about all being involved. They used to share this fellowship through folk stories, telling stories, singing, dancing, and creating that family relationship of working together. Even my helper's children would call me auntie.
It wasn't like just your actual auntie, everyone that helped to raise you was auntie or uncle. It was very confusing when I first arrived. How many aunties do you have? Actually, over time, I learnt this fellowship. The first one is respect, the second one is fellowship, the third one is quite closely aligned and it was about sharing. The philosophy is about sharing. It's about extending to people in need.
When we go back to a person is only a person through others, the way that I can explain this, the way that I heard this, and certainly part of the way Nelson Mandela grew up was that the cow was the owner's asset. That was your asset, but the milk was to be shared. The milk was to be shared amongst the community, but the cow remained your asset. What it meant was that we suffer and prosper together.
There was a system called lobola, which is an engagement of how many cows when you get married. There's a negotiation, and it happens between the families. Everybody sits together and they negotiate how many cows I'm going to get and how many of the assets I'm going to get, which was a stock fell got birthed out of that. I guess you could say it's an informal way of a credit union, but much more informal. That's how people would share and do things together to actually help the growth of the whole community.
It was about helping each other to grow as one knowing that if anyone got left behind, then everyone would end up suffering in the end. That was the real philosophy of that. The sharing was the third one. The fourth one that I think is really important to pull out of the philosophy was this human dignity. Human dignity was that the interest of the human being was to come before those of the economic and political interest.
Umuntu means person, which is something that's not static, but an ongoing process. That human being was respected for who she was, just not as the status, but rather as a person. A person was believed to be created in the image of God, which we can align various things across the world to. Those are, for me, the four things that I think are the best things to take away from the Ubuntu philosophy that we can also use in everyday life. I hope that is really just an example of things.
Brendan: I think you've given it huge justice. Thank you for going into that detail. You mentioned two pretty famous names—Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. From a practical application, things, respect, fellowship, sharing, and human dignity. Four strong aspects and areally holistic system. What was it about someone like Nelson Mandela when you were living across there? You were seeing this stuff firsthand, what was it about him from a practical element that he was Ubuntu—he was living this Ubuntu Leadership style that we're learning about today?
Jodie: Nelson Mandela was of the idea—there were a few really strong things that came out and he wanted to create a rainbow nation. He lived Ubuntu in the sense that he believed that it didn't matter what anyone had done, we were all human beings. It was about that humanness and humanity. That's why he was seen across the world as this global leader because he had spent so long in jail.
Those very people that he was in jail with, he then embraced and forgave because he knew that for anything to move forward, we had to be connected to each other. It was part of that journey. That was the Ubuntu spirit that he was taught. In his concept, which I'll get into a little bit now when we go through the model, but basically, he was about leading from behind. It was the shepherd theory that no one gets left behind.
The nimble and weak are up at the front and the shepherd leads from behind with his goats or whatever. It's the same theory as if you think about wolves. In a wolf pack, the alpha actually stands right behind and watches everything that's happening around him. He knows when his time is done as well, which is what Nelson Mandela was about. This is not about me.
This is about what's best for this rainbow nation and best for the world to see how we can connect to each other. But the weaker would go at the front, then you'd have your stronger ones sitting next in line, then the stronger ones at the back, and then the middle would be everyone else. The whole concept was that although they felt they had a voice, he was also leading but from the bottom. It was like a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down dictatorship. That was the democracy that he created.
I was obviously there. I went to his house. He was in Houghton, his home, which wasn't far from where I lived. My business partner also lives in Houghton. We went after he passed away and you could just feel this humanness. Even though I wasn't even born in Africa, I felt so connected to wanting to make a difference to serve, just because of this leader that was just so humble in the way that they led the nation and the things that he went through.
Desmond Tutu was right along there with him in a different role, as an archbishop. He was also very well-known and the two of them were obviously very close in their friendship. I've just been so fortunate to have met some amazing people that are at different levels in South Africa and Africa. Because of the nature of my work, I've got to move around, that I was doing in South Africa. One of my very good friends of mine, his dad was best friends with Nelson, and he was white.
He was a white South African. Lazer Sidelsky was his name and Colin Sidelsky his son, who's now in his 70s, is a good friend of mine in business. We've done some work together. He was talking about his dad, and his dad actually took Nelson on for his first job in law. They built this beautiful friendship. Lazer was a little bit older than Nelson, and Nelson was there when he went to the hospital. Nelson Mandela just showed what it was like to not have borders around where you're from, what race you are, but rather to embrace you as a human being. He lived it. He lived it and he was an example of it.
Brendan: Absolutely, a lot in that last statement, just seeing people as human, not for the color of their skin, sexuality, or whatever. Do you remember that moment in time that you first came across this concept of Ubuntu and how that started to shape your own thinking around the work that you do and the leadership stuff?
Jodie: Like I said to you, it was really a strange concept in the sense that I hadn't really read about Ubuntu for many years. It was only in 2017 that I actually did some studies and sort of looked at Ubuntu for the first time from a theoretical point of view. I (without knowing it) had actually been connected and living Ubuntu because I was surrounded by it, and it was part of what I was. But I think that a defining moment for me was we were on a change job and we were going into a community where people were resisting.
It was actually smart metering going into one of the townships in Soweto. At the time, city power in Eskom, who were the providers of electricity, was pushing into Soweto. Soweto is one of the biggest townships. I think it is the biggest, actually. It's about 9 or 10 million people just outside of Johannesburg. It's a very well-known one because it's where Nelson also grew up. He had a home there.
Basically what happened was they were trying to push this smart metering through and what they were doing was actually just using a dictator kind of role. It's not to say that because people from South Africa that they were all living Ubuntu, it gets anything, like any leadership or qualities that we have. They get lost sometimes along the way and we need to find them again. We noticed that people were putting these trucks on fires and things like that.
We went into Soweto to really find out about the people. At first, I was irritated because everybody wanted to talk. Ubuntu says that every voice matters. It was such a defining moment for me when we went in and I said, well, look, we have to find out what's important to these people, what's the value to them? Because we can't connect with them if we don't know what's important to them. There's certainly no way they're going to want to pay for electricity if they don't think that we care about them.
I went in with lots of enthusiasm with my partner, and suddenly, everyone wants to tell you about what's important to them and they want to talk. This is hours, I tell you, hours of work. That was a defining moment. For the first time, I understood what Ubuntu really was. The reason I say that is because the way that it works is that everyone has an opportunity to speak.
The minority has the opportunity to voice their opinion. It's about really listening to every voice, and knowing that within that lies the solution. That can be very difficult in practical terms. It was very frustrating for me. It was in my ignorance that I didn't realize the beauty of going slow to actually go fast. Because Brendan, you were asking me earlier, you're a runner and I'm like, yeah, so I go fast. You go fast to win the race.
We grew up on a farm so we're up early, and it's go, go, go. He'd stomp around, get us going. I grew up thinking if you work hard and you go really fast, that's how it works. Now here I am and it was about enjoying the journey. The way that they work is they sing and dance in between, and this is this long process, which was so different from how I was used to. It is like, oh my goodness, this person is talking, talking.
I just had to stop myself. My partner said to me—my business partner who's African, Sotho, which is where it comes from. That's one of the origins. She's from Sotho. She said to me, oh, this is Ubuntu. These people are living Ubuntu. I was like, okay, now I'm seeing this is part of the process of getting to a solution.
What happened was, because I stopped and relaxed about it, we found out so much information about them that we were able—without any issues—to be able to bring smart meters into a community without any fires, any violence, or anything. Because we were able to connect what we had heard, what they cared about, and what was of value to them to how this was going to help them even more.
We were able to get that connection. Without listening to them, we would never have found that. We would have had the same result that was already happening. That was really when it came to life for me and I realized how it all works. By the way, Brendan, they have so much fun while they do this. They dance, they sing, and they make it an experience.
I guess what I love about that is, sometimes we’re motoring through life. We're so busy that we get nothing done, we’re almost just rushing our way through life, and we turn around at the end and we say, what happened? Not with Ubuntu. With Ubuntu, we go slow and we listen. That was a huge lesson for me of the birth of it in 2012.
Brendan: Sounds like a pretty good place to learn it too in the home of Ubuntu.
Jodie: Yeah, so grateful. So grateful. In saying that, Brendan, I think that when I grew up, there were aspects already sitting here in Australia. There were aspects where my father talked about respecting your elders, having that respect for your elders, and what that meant. The difference here is what they are teaching to the children from a young age. Maybe the difference is not to tell you to do it, but to teach you how to be it, how to live it authentically.
Sometimes we force ourselves to have manners or force ourselves to be respectful. This is about actually being authentic to it, not forcing it. I think that was a little bit more depth that I got from understanding it better.
Brendan: Jodie, I think that's a good pathway into the UBUNTU Model that you've created. You and I, we've had various conversations over a number of months, and I effectually now call you the model queen. You are the absolute queen of models. You've created models for all sorts of stuff. Hence, you being your true authentic self, you have a model for Ubuntu, which you're going to share with us today. I think you sharing that will give us a really strong flavor of application of this and what it's about. Go into that. Let's talk about this UBUNTU Model.
Jodie: You're so right, Brendan. I really believe that simplicity is the way for us to have servers that are indirect. A really good leader will actually be able to serve without having to directly speak to everybody all the time because that's impossible. What I believe is that models keep it really simple and it allows ripples. Imagine throwing a stone in the water, it has this ripple effect, and it goes layers outside of you.
Nelson Mandela lived and was being with his direct modeling of a rainbow nation, which is through Ubuntu. What he did is he modeled his direct message and it was so powerful that it actually went across the globe. I think if leaders can learn to simplify the way that they live their message of what they're creating, they're able to have that ripple effect indirectly.
When Brendan said to do the talk, I thought, goodness gracious, I need to create the Ubuntu Model. It's very early days, but I feel like this will give you a good sense of how you can start to think about how to apply it. The motto behind it is that together we move from reflect to act to grow. That is the MTP, the massive transformative purpose of the UBUNTU Model that I'm working at. It was about together we move from reflect to act to grow. It's in that.
Brendan: You are just keeping me in suspense because you got to let people know as well, I've not seen this model. You haven't shared it with me either. I'm hearing it for the first time as our listeners and watchers are hearing for the first time. So come on, can you just get into it, please? I'm on the edge of my seat.
Jodie: The Ubuntu works like this. It's going to work with the steps. The U stands for understand, the B is for being, the next U is for unite, N for new spirit, T for trust, and the last one is for unconditional love because that transcends everything and transforms. I want to just give you a brief thing.
The U means to understand. Step one—from a practical application as a leader or as someone that's actually wanting to live it every day—is to know what's most important to people. That means knowing people's personal values. This is quite unique in the sense that for a long time, we've talked about having work, play, and our lives separate, like our family, play, and work have always been separated for many years. We were talking about when you go to work, your work.
But with this philosophy, we're talking about knowing the things about the people that are inside our organization, knowing our family members for who they are and what's most important to them. This fits in line with children who are educated on the family tree, historical background of the tribe, nation, culture, and traditions, and they understood where they came from and who they were.
In business leadership, it's important that people understand the history and the culture of the organization, as well as the business understands the individual values, which will give the collective values. The reason why I say this is so important, when I was on a massive change project—just from a practical sense of this one—the first thing I wanted to know on this project, and it was 460,000 households that were involved, and there were 7000 people on the project. I wanted to know what was most important to these people.
The first thing I did was I checked in on their personal values. Within six weeks, I didn't remember their names, but I could walk around to different buildings and I could remember what was most important to them. My children are most important to me. I was able to then have a connection to that person. I knew their faces, I knew what they looked like, and they could be a receptionist all the way to an executive. I knew what was most important to them and that is a very big leadership quality. You need to know the personnel. You need to understand it.
Then in return, they need to understand the business, its history, where it came from, and the values of the organization. That way, we can get that connection to it. The first one is understand. I hope that everyone's got that one.
The second step is B which is for being. This is where I was just mentioning the importance of being authentic. This is this inside-out theory, which is to try is to lie, and to do is to be true. I love that because it's a respect for each human. That's where this respect thing came in.
Some may be paid more than others or be in a higher position, but we are all human. So it's about being authentic and it's treating with that two-way respect. Because when you do that, people actually feel cared for. They feel like you are actually interested in where they're at and who they are. In that way, it actually can come back to you because I want to work harder for someone who I know cares about me.
To be authentic in the Ubuntu way is to actually live it, not to force it. Because when you force it, people can tell you’re being fake. You're just doing something because it's the right thing to do. To be curious and to actually take an interest in the individual seems very slow at first, but to truly be curious is to actually be finding out about them because then they actually want to help you to grow the business. There's that mutual respect for each other no matter what layer you're at. That's the being part.
I will give an example that I have from when I was running a real estate company in South Africa for about seven years. I ran a real estate company, actually, before I went into this, and I was always living this human behavior in my business. One of the things we did, we were in Johannesburg downtown, and what we were doing is we would—buildings were moving from being commercial to residential, so to change form because they were very rundown.
What you would find is you'd go into these buildings that were office blocks, which didn't have amenities. They had thousands of people squatting in them because they had nowhere to go to live in them. My husband would say, no, you can't go in there because they will kill you because this is all they've got, this is their home. The purpose was to go and negotiate with them, to move them to another location so the building could be fixed up and provide housing—proper housing with proper amenities.
That was part of the role that I played. I just thought to myself, if my intention is really to serve and to care about them, I think I'll be okay. I used to go into these buildings and I would negotiate with people that were squatting. We would get to a point where we could move them, actually clean up that building, and then provide more housing. It was this ongoing process.
That is being. That is really being Ubuntu. It is really caring about them no matter what level they're at. That is step two that we can apply. You can do this in your everyday life. That's why I say, whether it's leadership or in everyday community life, it's about caring for that stranger. That's how they worked.
They would care for a stranger. Feed them if they needed food. When I talked to you about the cow was the asset, but the milk was the sharing, this is what we're talking about here—sharing and caring as the being. I hope that is driven by that example I gave from a leadership perspective. Because what happened was, the aim was to clean up the building.
The developer wanted to come in, but no one could get the squatters to move because they hadn't gone in, cared about them, seeing what was their voice, listened to what that voice was, and then worked together. That's a really good way to understand that if you do that, you get more, not less, and everybody wins. It's a win-win scenario, but you have to be authentic with it.
Brendan: Again, I'm going to get you going too. Obviously, you're not in the rest of it very soon. But the thing that's standing out for me is that it’s almost that flow on the first one of understanding and learning their stories, and that famous line, seeking to understand. You need to be able to do that and then that puts you at that next stage of being authentic to being that and being a place to negotiate in that example you talked about. If they don't feel like you care about them as real people and understand their stories, then going to that next phase would be more challenging, I imagine, based on what I'm understanding you're saying.
Jodie: One hundred percent. You can think of your own examples in your own organizations or businesses. When you go in with the intent that you want something, it's something for nothing gets nothing or something. It's got to be a fair exchange. The only way it can be a fair exchange is you need to go in intent for them to win and not just for you to win. That's that respect and care that we're talking about. That is being authentic, not forcing it.
It's almost like you go in with the outside, you’re showing that you're being authentic and you're caring, but inside you've got an underlying intention for something for yourself that you need done and you rush it. This is about the alignment of the internal intention that you have with the external intention that you're driving.
Brendan: Thank you. Let's go into unite.
Jodie: Yeah. Oh, man, Unite. I love this one because...
Brendan: Sounds like it's the body and the heart and soul of the model.
Jodie: It sits in there. It's all just beautiful and it's all new for me as well. It's about we're all responsible for each other. If one fails, we all fail. If one succeeds, we all succeed. It's that democracy that we're talking about, and unity is where the power lies. It's that old saying, two heads are better than one. But in this case, to bring it back and link it to Ubuntu and then link it into the community, the whole village was responsible to take care of the children.
Let's say someone was walking along and they saw a child doing something they shouldn't be doing, they would reprimand the child, and then they would be thanked by the biological parents or the gogo that was looking after them for the service of helping to educate and helping to unite them as a community. I've seen that a little bit here with Avoca. I've heard some parents saying that they're watching your kids for you. It's that same thing in the community that I've seen where they'll say, oh, this one's down doing this, you might want to check-in, and they let the parent know.
This is a little bit more wider in the sense that it can even be a stranger that actually helps to grow the child, to educate the child, to teach the child the things of life with these life experiences, and to also create some level of discipline around it. Unite is working together. It's that collectivism that we're talking about, and it creates discipline and order, actually, because people are all responsible for each other. They know that if one fails, we all actually end up failing. If one succeeds, we celebrate together.
Sometimes to give an award and to say you got the award on your own is seen as well, no, I didn't. You'll see people who win an award and they get it. They say thank you, but then they'll immediately say when they receive an award, thank you to my producer or thank you to Brendan who got me to do this talk. You're actually thanking the commune. This is what this is, we succeed because of each other working together.
I actually think a little bit about it as systems thinking. I see this part as systems thinking, I love systems thinking. I love looking at the cause-effect relationships of things and seeing everything as connected from the macro to the micro. But how it works is they really look after their community and they focus on the self. If you imagine in a system in your business, the operating environment sits in the middle. It's like a force field around it.
You're looking after the people that are inside that operating environment. Then you've got your transactional environment and then you've got your contextual environment. I think when we talk from environments, if we can see how all of these things are helping each other and how they're moving around in cause-effect relationships, that is how you unite it together. You need to see it as a whole system.
That's why I love to do it. I drew up a system. We used to do some voluntary work to teach a little bit of Ubuntu leadership with children in schools because it's not really formally taught, because there hasn't been much written literature on it. I decided to draw up a system of how the teachers, the principal, the other schools, and the community were all connected to the role of these kids really living these things. That's the system working as one. I believe that's how you get even more growth from your business, from your education system, and from your community. Unite is important.
Brendan: Again, it’s really interesting how you mentioned system thinking because in my research in preparation for our conversation today, I'd never heard of the Linux operating system called Ubuntu. That came up all over the place. Again, let's not go into that, but I just wonder if some of their thinking came into just what you're explaining there, that whole system thinking and calling it one of their operating systems Ubuntu. But anyway, side note.
Jodie: Yeah. It's funny when we do social studies or you do your master’s or MBA, even the big firms, they all look at systems thinking. I just think that this is a wonderful example of it working. Because they're connecting the dots together and they're saying that it's one system and it starts with the human being and it moves from there.
Brendan: Well, for this the first time going through your model, you’re doing pretty well Jodie, I have to say. I'm loving it.
Jodie: Thank you. For a practical tool for it to be able to connect the dots, I love using Imago Therapy. It's quite new. It's in about 60 countries. I am facilitating with Imago, I love it. What it is it's sending and receiving. Basically, you send a message out and you listen with both ears. It's about having that intensive social network, but it's also the listening of the opinion of others. To do Imago, what it is, it's basically a sender and a receiver. That's what I like about it because it really is saying that I'm willing to listen to the voices. I gave the example earlier of when we went into the township and we listened to the voices.
It's that social network. It's that system, and so it's really about getting that information and just something I've thought of Elon Musk. He talks about that to someone on the floor working on his Tesla vehicle is allowed to contact him directly for efficiency. Because he knows that they know exactly what's going on and he holds them accountable for what they think they're going to do about the problem that's being raised and to write directly to him.
It’s less of that hierarchy of, it’s only that way. It's more he's getting more by speaking to that person and he's moving faster. He uses that. He listens to what they say and holds them accountable to problem-solving.
Brendan: Okay. Let's move on to the N, the new spirit, if I wrote it down correctly.
Jodie: Yes, you did. The new spirit is the spirit where we really get into leadership. It's about the king owning his status, and it's known as the king owns his status including the palace associated with it to the will of the people under him. The new spirit is about the spirit of the network, and this for me is also where the fun comes into it. I think that environments—sometimes we’re so serious and people say, oh my goodness, it's so stressful. I'm so serious. Part of the new spirit is about sustainability.
When we have fun—I love having fun, I love to have jokes, and I love to play games when I'm doing my work. I find in that it is a spirit that gets created, and obviously, in Ubuntu, it's done through storytelling, dance, and things like that. The leadership approach, remember I said early, is lead from behind. This is part of that new spirit, and a leader is nothing without followers anyway. If you let the followers go in front but you're viewing from behind, you can see what spirit is required. That's what I love because you've got a wider view.
It's almost like when an astronaut goes into space and they look back on Earth and they have an overview of it. Isn’t it funny that it's almost like they're saying from the bottom-up, you get it? We still have always thought of it as a top-down, you view your organization from the top-down. What the new spirit is almost in reverse. Look at the back so that you can see how to direct from behind. It's almost the opposite. I think that's quite nice because it shows that both are relevant. I think top-down and bottom-up—behind and in front—are actually what's going to get you the best results.
Combination in this new spirit, but having fun on that journey is part of it. It's critical. I explained that. That's the new spirit is really enjoying it. They talk in proverbs and analogies. One of the other important things of the leadership here that I really think was wonderful is they don’t just give answers.
It's quite interesting. When they're from behind, they want you to go and think. They want each person to have the spirit of wanting to use their mind and to actually think for themselves. It's about the entire network, once again, of people coming together, but at the same time, it's teaching them how to think.
It's like a chairman. A chairman listens to all these opinions. Imagine we’re thinking from behind. The chairman usually gathers the facts. If he hasn't had enough of the positives and the negatives or one side of the other, then they gather more on the positive so that they can make sure that it's even. In the end, there’s this whole recency, last man's words. I love the recency. They say these wise and profound things. Why? Because they've had that spirit of togetherness and gathering everything together first.
When they speak, people go, oh my goodness, that was such a great summary or whatever. In this case, it's like a proverb or analogy of how they put it together, which sends the individual away to be inspired to do more, to think more, to take their commitment to their work ethic more seriously, and to see how it fits together with the whole team winning. That’s that new spirit.
Brendan: Just summing that up a little bit, it sounds very much like taking that view of the leader's responsibility is to get good at asking good questions. If they do that, then they can have that recency scenario that you explained.
Jodie: Beautiful. Well, you just summarized it in one sentence, Brendan. Well done.
Brendan: I'm able to sit and listen to you actively, hopefully, Jodie.
Jodie: It’s just that the quality of the question determines the quality of the answer and the simplicity of it.
Brendan: One hundred percent.
Jodie: Yeah, so that's good. Trust is the next one.
Brendan: Trust would seem like a pretty big part of all this stuff.
Jodie: Yeah. As you can see, each piece needs to be lived off of the model. It works in phases or steps, if you may. Without the previous steps, it would be impossible to have any trust. In Ubuntu, how it seems like this, they are helping them to trust in themselves first and foremost. Every individual employee in your organization, to trust in themselves to not only sit in the known—this is what it's about—but to have the confidence to step into the unknown.
I love this because it's about realizing that education, learning, and even moving through the layers of your work, your work story, let's call it, I like to call it a story. You're growing in it and that it's a continuous journey throughout your life. Sometimes we think we’re just learning. We go and we study for what we want to do. But this encourages the continuous journey of trusting to continue to learn and moving. This whole process is about being able to want to step into the unknown and not be fearful of it. To actually say I'm willing to give this a shot and keep having those evolutions instead of having a revolution. That automatically helps the business.
The person that I think of globally when I think about this—because I like to link it back to some of the best global leaders that I know—is Ray Dalio, which is Bridgewater. He started in his flat, his business. Bridgewater was in the top 5 Fortune 500. Today, he's very well-known. He did something very unique that no one else was doing. He had principles and I’ll align this. What he said was radical truth and transparency was one of his principles.
Radical truth and transparency—the hard conversations. The knowing that you were able to say something, and instead of having a reaction, having reflection and reflective awareness. Being able to have that reflective awareness, moving from that hindbrain of instinct and impulse into the prefrontal cortex, and being able to use the forebrain for what it's there for, which is to be able to match all those associations. Going into the unknown, stepping into it says, I'm willing to step into my next level of chaos even though I may not know.
In Ubuntu, they do that with the children. They're teaching them how to have the confidence to trust to move into that unknown. That's why I think this is so suitable for business as well. Because it's about stepping into that next level of your growth and being willing to take on that next level of chaos and challenge so that you can grow personally but the organization can grow with you as well.
Brendan: It’s really that vulnerability piece again, isn't it? Putting yourself out there, give it a shot. It may fail, but you've got to put yourself out there. You’ve got to be vulnerable. and that's what builds trust.
Jodie: Exactly. You, very clever. I always say that trust never gets tested until one is vulnerable. PWC Global has a new equation right now. The new equation sits around trust and sustained outcomes. I'm working with PWC Africa right now. What's interesting about when you listen to that is that when there's a problem, that's when trust gets tested. The sustained outcome of the little things that everybody's doing to help the organization to have that sustainability. I think trust is such a misunderstood thing. It only is ever going to be tested when there’s that vulnerability or when there's a problem.
That's when you can see the value of it. When you're stepping into the unknown. It's about trusting yourself to know that you're going to go into your mind, you're going to think about things, and you're going to find solutions. Yourself as an individual in your family, in your community, and in your workplace environment. That's what you're encouraging with this as a leader—each individual.
Brendan: Let's move on to the final U in UBUNTU, unconditional love.
Jodie: Yeah. Well, unconditional love is the balancing and the synchronous of positives and negatives coming together. Unconditional love is finding the meaning, which is the mean. We look for the mean because the mean is when maximal growth occurs. That can only occur with unconditional love and gratitude. What I love about Ubuntu is that’s what it’s looking to do. It’s looking for human beings to actually have that gratitude, that growth, and that connection.
I think of the word wealth with all of these. From an etymology point of view, I love studying words. It's one of my favorite things. Wealth means weal. Actually, what it was, it's weal. It was well plus weal, and that was wealth back then. It was three layers to it and it was about wealth is money, but the welfare and well-being. If someone's sick, they can’t obviously function and have wealth. The result of living this UBUNTU model is to actually create true wealth, which is the wealth not just of yourself but of everyone—all human beings.
It's the wealth as a money perspective because we know we need to make money for the organization to grow. It's having accountability to growing that wealth as well, to making money, and to providing a service and being paid in fair exchange for it. That's the layers of how great a service you can provide indirectly. Which is why I said initially as a leader, once you're in unconditional love, you're in your best mode, you're at the mean. You're having your straightest route. You're getting your light bulb moments towards your vision. At that moment, you are able to lead everybody to create that wealth.
The well-being, we have a vehicle as human beings that we've been given. We only have this vehicle for a very short period of time. To look after the vehicle puts us in a position to be able to grow our organizations and to continue to lead them in the way that we need to best. Because if one is sick, then it doesn't matter how much money we've got, nothing's going to fix that. The same goes if we are healthy but we don't have money, then we also cannot grow in our influence in the world.
Unconditional love is the quickest route. That is the state of gratitude. Not pseudo-gratitude where you say thank you once again because you have to. But true gratitude, which is that mean. It sits in the middle. It’s where you're focused on your pathway to your vision.
That's what I believe that Ubuntu sort of brings out, and it brings out other things too. But you know that you can relate this to different kinds of leadership styles—transformational leadership, servant leadership.
But what I like to say is when you get unconditional love at the end of this model, you will know which style of leadership is required for the well-being, the wealth, and the welfare of all at that moment in time. You will be able to be as a leader in your prefrontal cortex, you will be thinking, you will be in your intuitive state rather than your impulse and instinct state, and you will be able to make that call as to what is the type of leadership that is required for the wealth, welfare, and well-being of all. I think that sums it up.
Brendan: That sums it up perfectly. I would say almost perfectly, flowing on to that is just then that is the I am because we are part. That's where it all flows through, isn’t it? You just put that together so nicely. You are a model queen. That is unbelievably impressive. There are a couple of other questions, but I feel like I have no questions about the model because you’ve summed it up so well. You’ve given examples that we can go back and relate to. To say you did that just a couple of days ago, that's very impressive, Jodie, I have to say. Well done.
Jodie: Thank you. I think that when you start to realize that you have a deep intent for serving others, and Brendan, that's you as well. Your intent is to bring us to life, myself. I'm super grateful for you because you actually challenged me and I thought, well goodness, I better create this.
Brendan: You better do what you keep asking me to do. Get your model sorted out.
Jodie: Yeah, exactly. That other surface and being able to bring the Ubuntu concept is actually a privilege to bring it to life a little bit because it's very verbal based. It's not written-based. It's about being. It's being lived and taught as just something that you do in your life that you’d be. I think sometimes we get told, less rushing and doing and more just being present in your life. That's what I see with this. Through that, you grow more.
Brendan: The other exciting thing, which is more the practical, logical side. What you've just explained and gone through, that is thought leadership stuff. I've done a fair bit of research even just through YouTube and a couple of other techs and stuff like that around Ubuntu Leadership, what you showed today, I've not seen anywhere. This is a global first, Jodie. I'm saying it with a smirk on my face, but in all seriousness, this is a global first.
Jodie: Well, I mean I've actually linked into a couple of my friends in Africa who are leaders there.
Brendan: Well, there you go, I am because we are.
Jodie: Yes. I told them that I'm expecting some good criticism out of this as well, which allows something to grow. I love criticism because it allows me to either clarify what I'm saying. It gives me more clarity in my own mind and to clarify it to someone, or it sends me on a growth journey to say I need to look a bit more at these and push myself to grow. I've challenged myself and sent it to them. Probably when they wake up, they're like no, no, no, Jodie, you need to swap this around.
Brendan: Well, as you say, it’s all room for growth. You mentioned some a little bit early in the model about having fun. It’s really important to have fun. Can you give us your best mom joke at the moment? Is that too much on the spot?
Jodie: Mom joke?
Brendan: We have dad jokes, so surely you’ve got a mom joke if you love having fun.
Jodie: I just play games with them.
Brendan: That’s the fun, okay.
Jodie: Did you know my dad used to tell jokes? We used to sit and laugh at the jokes. I always said that I can never remember jokes. My husband does it actually. I can never remember actual jokes, but I love doing games and applying the concept of having fun, which is why I love to play with my kids in some of the games that they love as well. Just bringing out that child within. That’s my version. I'm terrible with jokes.
Brendan: Fun is really important to have, and it's certainly a key element of learning. There’s no doubt about it. Jodie, just conscious of time, I want to start to wrap this up. I always like to ask my guests this final question, what’s the greatest impact on your own leadership journey?
Jodie: Thanks, Brendan. Definitely, I thought it was worthwhile to mention that on the 2nd of February, 2020, we arrived back in Australia. The idea was that we would do a test here. We brought the kids back here. The kids were born in South Africa, our children, Daniel is 13 and 10. My husband actually ended up going back to South Africa before the lockdown and he got stuck last year in South Africa for six months.
I was here on the central coast, a new place, a five-hour drive away from family members, and not knowing anybody. I already had two full work trips booked back to South Africa that I was no longer able to go to and consequently haven't been back to South Africa since, or Africa for that matter.
The impact it had from a leadership perspective was I, first of all, was very anxious about how I am going to connect because I was then asked to do things virtually. I know that everyone has at least gone through this a little bit where you've had to do virtual meetings or Zoom Hangouts, WebEx, and things like that. That’s been, for a lot of people, your new form. I got thrown into that April. In March, we started in the lockdown. In April, for the first time, I ran 16 webinars that month back to Africa to about 10 countries at the time.
I was petrified because I thought how am I going to hear what they're saying and how am I going to create that connection, the Ubuntu? Because I couldn't even see them, I could only see myself, so suddenly I've got a reflection of myself. It's like talking to yourself. The thing that I realized is that connection has no barriers. I think of it like an SMTP server where it gets decoded and processed. If I was to get really present in that webinar and I was having that unconditional love and gratitude for the opportunity to still be able to serve all the way from Australia across all the waters and got really grateful for it, I actually knew that I could serve them.
I had an unbelievable impact more so than ever because I would get goose pimples as I was speaking and tears of inspiration, which let me know that I was on track with what I was saying. Then I was having this service without even having a face-to-face connection. Unconditional love, presence, and gratitude for the situation that you are in allow you to really connect to human beings in a completely different way. In a way that it's not physical, and that for me was the most powerful thing it had the result of that. That's been a big transition.
Brendan: That’s brilliant, Jodie. Thank you for sharing that story with us today. I’d have to say, you’ve been very present in sharing your time with us today as well. Your articulation of the model is absolutely fantastic, UBUNTU. This is the focus of our conversation today, Ubuntu Leadership, UBUNTU philosophy. You absolutely nailed that without a shadow of a doubt in my books. We'll put all of the ways to contact you in the show notes so people can contact you when they need to. The show will be out in about a month's time on YouTube once we edit and take out a few of the bits and pieces, a faux pas that I might have.
I want to say a massive thank you again. It's so great to have you as part of my network. I'm so lucky that we've met and had some fantastic conversations. You’ve got unbelievable energy. I love having a chat with you. We seem to chat about all sorts of things. Once again, thanks for coming on our show today. You’ve been a fantastic guest on The Culture of Things podcast.
Jodie: Thank you so much, Brendan. Thank you to you, Mark, the producer, and your team for organizing us and for bringing our voices to the world so that we can help serve others. I think your service is phenomenal. Thank you.
Brendan: Absolute pleasure. Thank you, Jodie.
When you put yourself out into the world, you’ll come across many special people. Jodie Hill is one of those people. Jodie is an Aussie with a love for South Africa and an accent to match. When I first met her, we talked about numerous things, particularly around leadership and the work she does. I was fascinated and inspired by her passion for her craft and the knowledge she has to go with it. When I learned she has some background with Ubuntu leadership and Ubuntu philosophy, there was no question about having her on the show. I am because we are. That is the Ubuntu way. I am a better person for having Jodie as part of my world.
These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Jodie. My first key takeaway: Humility is the ‘leadership’ game-changer. The difference between a good leader and a great leader is their level of humility. Humility is best defined by the quote from CS Lewis "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less." Think of the global leadership stature of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, or Mother Theresa. The single biggest value that made them great, was their level of humility.
My second key takeaway: Leaders take the time to understand. They’ll take the time to learn what’s important to people. They’ll take the time to learn their stories. To understand people’s personal values. This is what builds a connection and develops relationships, and it’s free to do. Just take the time to understand.
My third key takeaway: Leaders unite people. They create and live an environment where we are all responsible for each other. They believe if one fails, we all fail; and if one succeeds, we all succeed. Rallying people behind a collective goal is the basis for teamwork, which drives unity. Leaders know this and use it to unite people.
In summary, my three key takeaways were: Humility is the leadership game-changer, leaders take the time to understand, and leaders unite people.
If you want to talk about culture, leadership, or teamwork, or have any questions or feedback about the episode, you can leave me a comment on the socials or you can leave me a voice message at thecultureofthings.com. Thanks for joining me, and remember, the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation!
Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.