If from my High Performance Leadership (HPL) I learnt only two lessons about service and servant leadership, I wouldn’t ask for more.
What the project was about.
Challenged by Toastmasters to carry out a HPL project as a requirement for achieving an Advanced Leadership Silver Award, I set about to identify a project and recruit partners/ team members. I identified a project to create awareness of two facilities that the Municipal Council of Mbabane installed in some streets of the city to facilitate ease of mobility for visually impaired persons. These are audible traffic lights and yellow guide blocks.
With new insight on developing an action strategy, I couldn’t believe it when I effortlessly persuaded various Government departments, organisations and individuals to partner with me. Hence, I ended up working the Police Traffic Department, Roads Safety department in the Ministry of Works and Transport, National Association of Visually Impaired Persons in eSwatini, Municipal Council of Mbabane, eSwatini Broadcasting Service and interested individuals.
On a cold, wet Saturday morning on 20 October, 2018 armed with information leaflets that we had developed, I together with close to 100 other people converged at Coronation Park in the City of Mbabane to start a march. No, it was not a protest march but one to sensitise the general public on the aforementioned facilities which had been in existence since 2014. No civic education on their purpose had ever been conducted.
Leadership lesson number one:
It is not about you but the people you serve.
The march was scheduled to kick off at 08:30, but by 09:30 it had not started. Why? We were waiting for a group of visually impaired students from St Joseph’s School of the Blind (50 kilometres away from Mbabane) to join us. I was anxious to get started because I had been informed that the guest of honour, Mayor of the City of Mbabane, had another engagement at 11:00 that morning.
As I was pacing up and down, I overheard him complaining that he was being made to wait in the inclement weather and that he would be late for his next appointment. And I thought, “Oh, dear! There goes my HPL and my credibility.”
I had to summon enough courage to go and tell him that the group we were waiting for was still making slow progress to Mbabane, and suggested that we start the march without them. The Mayor gave me my first lesson in leadership. He said “No, I will wait. We cannot start without them because this event is about them and it would not be the same without them.”
This response stopped me short in my tracks to do some introspection on the kind of leader I was.
At that moment, I understood the statement from the HPL booklet in a way I had not done before,
“servant leaders are willing to place…contribution above their own ego satisfaction and the needs of the team above their own needs for credit and action “
Leadership lesson number two:
Be courageous to make a decision and stand by it.
To engage in a march within the City of Mbabane permission has to be granted by the Municipal Council. Therefore, having identified the route that would facilitate maximum awareness of the facilities, we lodged our request to Municipality. Alas! Despite being a partner in the project, Municipality turned down our request. Instead, permission was granted for a different and less suitable route.
But, on the day of the march when the Mayor learnt about the authorised route, without hesitation he said, ” I do not care which route the Municipality gave permission for. We are going to use the one that was originally identified because it is significant to the core purpose of this event. If they have an issue with that, they will have to take it up with me afterwards.”
This was another moment which made me ponder on how comfortable am I to make a decision, no matter how difficult or controversial, and stand by it because I believe that it best serves the people that I am serving.
At the end of the day, we all celebrated a wonderful event despite the miserable weather. We had carried out a project beneficial to the community of the City of Mbabane.
Personally, as much as I was thrilled to have completed the project to earn my HPL certificate, I most celebrated the two leadership lessons I got from the Mayor. At that moment, I realised that whilst Toastmasters provides one with ample opportunities to learn and develop, lessons will sometimes come from least expected situations and people.
Patience Jongerius: ACS, ALB
Mbabane Club Swaziland