As Africans, we often turn to the West or the East for solutions, for best practice and wisdom. When it comes to wisdom we often forget to turn to our African proverbs. These are a source of great wisdom and a good reference point, especially at a time when wisdom and great leadership is required to unite all South Africans.
I have selected six of my favourite African proverbs that I believe leaders and ordinary South Africans should embrace.
The African proverb, “When a king has good counsellors, his reign is peaceful,” is a proverb, which resonates with leadership in South Africa. Wise leaders know the importance of good counsel; good decisions, grounded in wisdom, are decisions which are transparent and in the best interest of all. The lesson for young men and women in the talent management space is to be very careful about whom you approach for advice. Advice can be either good or bad. Good, sound advice builds bridges; it builds nations, and sound organisations. Poor advice can limit careers, or prove damaging even to an organisation.
The proverb, “If a child washes his hands he could eat with kings.” The proverb means that if you allow yourself to be well trained, you will achieve a great deal and be favoured in due course.
The world of work today requires that we commit to lifelong learning. Even if you have no skills in a particular area, your willingness to learn, will ensure that you find favour in a specific area.
“Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character goes with him.” This has certainly proved the case with former Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan. Despite being relieved of his position, he has suffered no reputational damage whatsoever.
Leaders in business, government and politics know that one’s reputation will always follow one. The lesson for young men and women in the talent management space is to ensure that they are of good character; somehow, skeletons always have a way of coming out of the closet.
“Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped. “ The meaning of the proverb is that one should not look to one’s mistakes, but what caused you to make a mistake, otherwise you may repeat the mistake.
The lesson in the workplace is always to be honest, and where things have gone wrong, question your motivation when embarking on a course of action, as this is often the cause of flawed decision making.
The list would be incomplete without the well-known proverb: “The best way to eat an elephant in your path is cut him up into little pieces.” South Africa faces many challenges. However, by tackling these challenges bit by bit, problems can be solved. This wisdom also applies to the workplace: tackle challenges in small pieces; find solutions bit by bit and the challenge becomes less daunting.
In closing, I was reminded of the Swahili proverb: “Wisdom is wealth.” Wisdom is undoubtedly the greatest attribute in any leader. Whether in business, government or politics, the challenge is to strive to become wise leaders.