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Africa must reclaim its emotional intelligence
Posted Thu, 03 Mar 2005

Africa is fraught with deadly conflict driven by, among other things, mistrust, greed, moral decay, lawlessness, lack of humility, lack of creativity and a lack of will to serve or be of service to others. This is indicative of the need to manage our emotions better.

There is a clear gap between precolonial leadership and current leadership in Africa. Within that gap is emotional intelligence (EI). Africa in general, and South Africa in particular, displays low levels of EI which might delay or hinder transformation and obstruct the goals embedded in Nepad.

Based on studies of the Zulu chieftaincy and Bafokeng Kingdom of South Africa, the Fungwe chieftaincy of Zambia, and the Akan System/chieftaincy of Ghana, it is clear that pre-colonial African leaders demonstrated the ability to manage their emotions intelligently. In contrast, the post-colonial African leadership seems to display emotional illiteracy, unfitness, shallowness and a lack of emotional alchemy.

We in Africa have accumulated so much negativity resulting from colonialism, wars, coups, hunger, poverty, HIV/AIDS, apartheid and so on. These events have an impact on how we think, feel and react to situations.

The emotional component of the brain, the limbic system, is capable of hijacking both our intellect and our values. What is not new is that this hijacking occurs without our awareness. This is simply not good, for when the thinking and processing of values are controlled by emotions outside of our awareness.

Emotional intelligence is a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions.

Emotions spark creativity, collaboration, initiative, and transformation: logical reasoning reins in errant impulses and aligns purpose with process, technology with touch. Evidence indicates that a person’s fundamental values and character in life stem not from intellect (IQ), but from underlying emotional capacities.

Emotion suppression, where anger, rage, resentment, frustration and the like are bottled up, can result in counter-productive workplace behaviours. Humans have a strong tendency to develop attitudes and behaviours that destroy trust and relationships. Values can be determined on an ad hoc basis, leading to inconsistency in relationships and decision-making.

It has been found and confirmed through many research studies over the past 40 years that a leader’s success does not predominantly depend on their IQ but their level of EI. Research indicates that only 7% of leadership success is attributable to IQ, while 93% results from EI-related qualities.

Change begins with a realistic appraisal of the self, a process of reflection that increases the knowledge of who we are as Africans and where we come from. This would lead to a humble acceptance of one’s real limitations and recognition of one’s strengths. When we develop a more accurate self-concept, we can utilise those around us to compensate for our natural limitations and leverage the strength of diversity in a way that reflects the ubuntu philosophy.

It is also paramount that we clarify our values, so that leadership, work life, and values are more closely aligned, overtime creating stability and a passion and commitment to work. It is also critical that we the leaders in Africa be authentic. One cannot be a true, world-class leader if you as a person are not authentic. This is why authenticity is said to be the most advanced form of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence helps leaders to articulate team goals and objectives, to instil enthusiasm in members, to encourage flexibility, and to establish cooperation, trust, and identity within their work team. These EI competencies are critical for Nepad initiatives to succeed.

Regaining EI in Africa is an imperative, not a choice, if we are to re-affirm our identity and survive in the global village. Africa has a unique past that requires us to face up to challenges that surround the human existence. A paradigm and mindset shift is urgently required.

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