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Ubuntu and Servant Leadership Styles of Leading
By Iris Billy

Markets and workforces are increasingly global and diverse and it is clear that change is so rapid that leaders cannot hope to keep pace with all developments, much less be responsible for the innovation needed to keep ahead of them. For leaders and decision makers who practice leadership styles such as servant leadership and Ubuntu (we) leadership across organizations have realized collaboration is required with numerous parties other than the leader.

The great man theory of leadership (I) stated that people were born with the necessary attributes that set them apart from other individuals and that these traits are responsible for their assuming positions of power and authority (Skidmore, 2006). A leader was considered as an individual who accomplished goals against all odds for his followers. Burke, (1979) has implied in his writings that those in power deserved to be there because of their special leadership abilities. Furthermore, Burke contended that these traits remain stable over time and across different groups. According to Skidmore, (2006) all great leaders share these characteristic regardless of when and where they lived or the precise role in the history they fulfilled. Due to increasing diversity within business organizations and the growing interdependence of players within an organization, leaders need to adopt a more inclusive, collaborative style as in the Ubuntu (we) style of leadership.

It’s also becoming clear that today’s complex environment often demands a team approach to problem solving. This requires a leader who, among other things, is comfortable sharing power and generous in doing so, is able to see extraordinary potential in ordinary employees. The Ubuntu collaborative style of leadership to a shepherd behind his flock, Ubuntu is an acknowledgment that leadership is a collective activity in which different people at different times depending on their strengths come forward to move the group in the direction it needs to go. The Ubuntu (we) style of leadership showcased the ability of a group that doesn’t have to wait for and then respond to a command from the front. That kind of ability is more likely to be developed by a group when a leader conceives of her role as creating the opportunity for collective leadership, as opposed to merely setting direction (Van, 2003).

Participants in leadership have enshrined the servant leadership style which they think is very similar to the Ubuntu (we) style of leadership. In leadership once the direction is clear, the leader’s role is to help subordinates achieve their goals. The servant leader seeks to help subordinates win through teaching and coaching so that they can do their best. A servant leader naturally fosters a servant mentality in the overall team and as a result, productivity and creativity increases because there is an absence of competition. As in the Ubuntu and servant leadership styles employees thrive in a team atmosphere when the team succeeds everyone shares in the glory rather than the leader getting the sole credit for everyone else’s work.


Burke, W. W. (1979). Leaders and their development. Group & Organization Studies (Pre-1986), 4(3), 273.

Skidmore, M. S. (2006). Great Man Theory. Encyclopedia of Educational Leadership and Administration. (1) 438-439. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Van, D. C. (2003). Leadership lessons from the African tree. Management Decision, 41(3), 257-258.

Iris Billy is completing her PhD in Organization Management and Leadership through Capella University, MN and is a graduate of Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY. She holds a Master of Science if Business Management with dual concentrations in Organizational Management and Strategic Leadership. Her professional experience has been in teaching in many public and private colleges within New York City. She has had 20+ years of practical business experience in non-profit and profit organizations within New York City.

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