The Future of Leadership Book

by Admin

Dr Nik: Thank you very much for making time to share your insights into the future of leadership. But before we go into the future, can you quickly share a little bit of your own background? Where did you grow up?

Prof Jansen: I grew up in the Cape Flats in South Africa, which is generally an area of deprivation, working-class people, and a lot of gang violence. It is a tough area in which to grow up and still is. I was very lucky to have parents who are devout Christians. They raised me in a bubble, as I often call it, in which there was a very strong sense of family values, spiritual commitment, and living a sacrificial life in the service of others.

Around me, I could see the alcoholism, the drugs, the violence, and so on that was very visible but within me and certainly within our house, there was an incredible sense of peace, focus, and awareness that the world is more than just your material surroundings but also your spiritual ambitions.

Dr Nik: And tell us, did you have a dream career when you grew up?

Prof Jansen: Remember, your horizons were very much set by what was possible through the lens of your parents and your friends and family, so I didn’t even know what a university was. I didn’t know it existed. I sort of stumbled because of friends onto the University campus, got registered, and all of that. So, my goal was just hopefully to get a job in one of the factories around, to get a flat, or if I’m lucky, a nice critical job. I had no reason to be ambitious at all, and so I just had a series of lucky breaks, I suppose, in my life.

Dr Nik: Can you tell us who inspired you in your early days?

Prof Jansen: My main inspiration was a Latin teacher who took me aside one day while I was playing soccer, which was the only reason I went to school – to enjoy playing soccer with my mates. He told me I had potential. I had not known what the word meant (it was before Google), so I asked my mother, and she said it means “you don’t have to play soccer for the rest of your life.” It made such an impact on me that a teacher thought I was better than I thought I was. That was one of the big reasons that I started to become more studious and committed. I happened to have some friends who were incredibly ambitious, more than I was, who also helped me to be more focused on academic work and not just play.

My mother was a big inspiration to me, a very hard-working woman who, if it wasn’t for apartheid, I’m quite sure she would have been a senior person in the profession of nursing. The example of a life and particularly the habit of really working hard was something that she instilled in me. My father was a different kind of role model in terms of his generosity towards those who had even less than we had and his gentle demeanour. He never threw a tantrum or argued with anyone, even his wife. I had people all over the place in the church itself that I grew up in who were influential in giving me a strong sense of values. But also, as I said with this teacher, a sense of “there’s more to you than you yourself tend to think”.

Dr Nik: Looking back over your leadership career, was there a turning point or maybe a number of turning points where things could have gone different?

Prof Jansen: Very often, like when I dropped out of first year of university in 1976, during the Soweto riots in the country. Obviously, we joined them in the protest action. My lecturers were incredibly racist and discouraging at the University, so I dropped out and went to look for a job just to get away from the hardship of going to university, having to travel for three to four hours a day, and not having parents with money to keep me there. If my mother hadn’t sent me back to campus with one of my relatives, I don’t think I would be with you today. That was one moment that I think could have gone either way.

Then, just navigating from home to school and all the mini skirmishes, in which one could have been fatally wounded, I remember that very clearly. I did eventually go back to university and manage to escape home. Fortunately, I had people who said, “here’s a horse worth betting on” and put some money into my education. For all of that, I’m very grateful.

Dr Nik: What would you say is driving you today?

Prof Jansen: What drives me in my 18-hour day is a very strong sense of the fact that I have been privileged. I have been blessed. I studied at some of the best universities in the world, and therefore, I have a responsibility to give back. I have a responsibility not to amass wealth for myself but to give it back to students who need scholarships or to give it back to mentors and in training.

So, my entire life for a long time has been premised on this notion that because you had so many people invest in your life, you have a responsibility from the platform that I have, whether it was as a Dean or a Vice-Chancellor, or just as a regular Professor, to use the platform of influence to make other people’s lives better, regardless of who they are. So, that’s what I live my life for.

Dr Nik: And Prof looking into the future, what does the future of leadership mean to you?

Prof Jansen: I suppose when you get into your 60s, you become very aware of the fact that you need to prepare your replacement leadership. So, I spend a huge amount of time training future professors, community leaders, and principles, and other senior teachers, for them to become, first, ethical leaders, secondly, to become competent leaders, thirdly, to become visionary leaders, and sacrificial leaders. In other words, there is a very sharp awareness that with the time I’ve left in my career and in my life, I need to prepare people who will be better leaders than myself.

Dr Nik: Looking back over your leadership journey, what would you consider most important for building Future Leaders?

Prof Jansen: I think the most important thing is the credibility you have as a leader. Whether you’re a professor, your credibility as a scholar, or whether you are making changes in communities, the ways in which you give from your own resources to improve other people’s lives. In other words, people only follow you to the extent that your personal life, professional life, and political life are exemplary.

I’m not suggesting, of course, that leaders are perfect. None of us are. I certainly have a lot of flaws. But I do believe that people watch me 24/7 and ask, “Is this person somebody worth following? Are the values that this person professes, whether it’s for social change, political renewal, or educational reform, an example of leaders worth emulating?” So, I’m very conscious of that role in society.

Dr Nik: What is your advice for future leaders in terms of challenges – what are some of the biggest challenges they should expect to encounter in their careers?

Prof Jansen: I think one of the biggest challenges in the world is dealing with existential questions like climate change. In South Africa, the struggle involves important questions around poverty, development, inequality, and more. Therefore, one of the most crucial challenges is to develop leaders who are counter-cultural and will go against the tide. In South Africa, the leadership at the top of the country is so compromised by corruption that it’s difficult to be a whistleblower or to take a different path than the most visible leaders in society.

For me, one of the key factors is developing tenacity, single-mindedness, and a preparedness to be different. This means being counter-cultural in the face of decline. It’s essential to cultivate leaders who can stand up to these challenges and make a positive impact.

Dr Nik: If you were to design a curriculum for future leaders, what new skills would you want to factor in?

Prof Jansen: I think that obvious skills are essential, regardless of your discipline. Competence is critical, as well as confidence as a person. However, in a rapidly changing world, the most important skill is learning how to lead in the context of crises. This requires a set of skills that are very personal, such as temperamental skills. You must be able to resist being easily hijacked by other people’s ambitions and stay true to your core values, regardless of what is happening in society around you. Additionally, you must read the future and plan accordingly, as well as build teams of diverse people to achieve the goals of the unit you lead. These skills are challenging, and people often refer to them as “soft skills,” but they are critical.

Developing these skills begins with temperamental skills like the ability to maintain balance, read the room, and anticipate the future. These are difficult things to do, as much of it is intuitive. However, it also requires you to be teachable as a leader.

Dr Nik: As a mentor to Future Leaders can you maybe share a success story or two where you mentored an upcoming leader, and that person took your advice to heart?

Prof Jansen: I can give you hundreds of stories, one of which is about a young man who excelled academically despite attending a poor and violent school and community. I funded his studies, and he became a Mandela Rhodes scholar, a leader in the education community, and a great inspiration to thousands of others. What was amazing about him was how often he came back to me to express his gratitude for the opportunity I gave him. I always encouraged him to set his own standard and strive for excellence beyond my own accomplishments. Sadly, this young man was murdered in South Africa a few months ago, but he is someone I always hold up as an example of someone who, given the opportunity, made a massive difference in the country.

There are also many young people on the professorial side who I have had the privilege of teaching. They are now deans, heads of departments, and deputy vice chancellors, known throughout the country and around the world as great leaders in research and teaching. I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to prepare future leaders, but the real thrill for me is when I see that they are much better than me at what they do.

Dr Nik: Looking back over your leadership career, are there any role models of leadership that you have encountered and that you would recommend future leaders should study?

Prof Jansen: For me, as I said, my mother was a very important leader because she taught me how to lead in the midst of adversity. I found enormous strength from her. On the literary side, I still take enormous courage from an American writer and poet called Maya Angelou. She is an enormously powerful, quiet, humble, and moving leader.

Across the world and across cultures, I have always been blessed to be able to look up to people who were fearless, who were not bought by the political and economic system, and who were fiercely independent as thinkers and doers. Our former public protector, Thuli Madonsela, is a truly modern seller and an enormous inspiration to me because of her ability to speak truth to power.

Yeah, one is surrounded by people like the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another fearless person who paid the price for taking on power. There is no shortage of such people, and I will leave out the obvious examples like Nelson Mandela and point to others who are perhaps less visible but equally influential in inspiring people like me.

Dr Nik: Last but not least, what is your advice for the millions of learners out there who are looking to finish school and start a career? What are one or two success principles they should keep in mind?

Prof Jansen: Very simply put, you are much smarter than you think. I wish I had known that when I was in grade school. I wish somebody had told me early on that you don’t measure your ability to do great things by what people tell you about what your circumstances suggest about you, but that you should believe in what’s inside of you. Because we’re all endowed with enormous ability. Now, we might not all be good at science and mathematics; it might be art and culture or cycling and boxing. We’re not all good at the same thing, but find out what you’re good at, and you’ll be surprised that you’re actually much smarter than you think.

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