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Leading with Presence, Not Fear

by Rio Matlhaku

The opportunity to lead can sometimes be daunting. According to Conversant- the connection diaries website, presence is the triad of our cognitive, emotional and physical presence. In the last two years I have stepped into a leadership position that I found both exciting and daunting at the same time. Exciting as it afforded me an opportunity to connect with young people in a forgotten and forsaken part of Soweto, Kliptown. It was daunting and scary as I felt like I was not ready and fully qualified to take on the task I had set myself.

My aim was to provide an environment wherein young men can express their thoughts, fears and hopes for the future. A place where they could feel safe to find themselves. I leaned heavily on my training in Deep Democracy - CoResolve to lay a foundation to build trust, empathy and to connect with the 30 young men I engage with once a month. The biggest lesson for me in the two years in this journey is how much I have learnt from the young men in our group. I was transparent with the young men that I am not a fountain of knowledge, that the journey we were about to undertake would be one wherein all of us would be prepared to learn something from the experience and from each other.

It was important that I commit fully to the enterprise, that I was present both in body and spirit. That I paid attention to each of the 30 boys in the group. That I made an effort to understand their socio-economic condition and how this might have had an impact in how they perceive themselves.

In July we had one of our most difficult sessions. Our meeting took place a few weeks after the looting which happened in Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng. I was determined that we were going to address the proverbial elephant in the room, which was to discuss what they thought about the looting and whether any of them participated.

It was a refreshing, albeit difficult discussion. It was encouraging to learn that some of the parents put their feet down and prohibited their children from either getting involved in the looting or bringing home goods home taken from nearby shops. This for me put paid to the argument that hunger and lack of access to resources were the cause of the looting. I was impressed that parents who had little would choose to instil admirable values in their children when faced with the temptation of going with the flow and joining in the looting.

My initial doubts about how I would handle this exercise have since dissipated. I and the young men have forged an understanding of mutual respect and trust that has helped make our deliberations engaging and fruitful. The days I spend at the Kliptown Youth Program are fulfilling, engaging and productive. I hope that our collective journey will help the young men grow into leaders in their community. That they too will help shape a South Africa we would like to live in.



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