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Boyd Varty grew up among the animals of the Londoloze Game Reserve of eastern South Africa. A place, he recalls in his TED Talk What I learned from Nelson Mandela, where the “people, animals and ecosystems teach us about a more interconnected world.”

boyd varty ubuntuWhen he was nine years old, Boyd met Nelson Mandela, whom he refers to as the embodiment of ubuntu—the African word for interconnectedness. More specifically, ubuntu means, “I am because of you.” It expresses the idea that people become people through other people.

Varty goes on to illustrate ubuntu by telling the chilling story of being attacked by a crocodile. His friend Solly Mhlongo, risked his life to save Varty from the croc. He calls Solly’s selfless act as an example of ubuntu.

In a more collective society, we realize from the inside that our own well-being is deeply tied to the well-being of others. Danger is shared. Pain is shared. Joy is shared. Achievement is shared. Houses are shared. Food is shared. Ubuntu asks us to open our hearts and to share, and what Solly taught me that day is the essence of this value, his animated, empathetic action in every moment.

Before you suggest that ubuntu might not be unique to Africa, consider the story of Elvis the Elephant. You may have thought elephants quite human-like, but Boyd’s story will raise that idea higher and cinch the notion that interconnectedness arises from the nature of the continent.

But that doesn’t mean unbuntu has to remain isolated in Africa. It offers an example that leaders everywhere can follow. Ubuntu encourages humanness. It puts the greater good in front of personal gain.

I have integrated the concept of ubuntu as the foundation of Leadership Intimacy. That is to say, you cannot work alone, much less lead alone. With Leadership Intimacy, just as with ubuntu, you must open yourself up to a new level of intimate communication between your coworkers and your colleagues.

You will find that your expanded openness will enable you and every member of your team to see each other more intimately. Your intimate leadership will foster intimate communication, closer team relationships, and higher levels of trust. It will help all of you grow and increase productivity, creativity, and innovation throughout your organization.

Ubuntu for You

If you really want to learn about ubuntu and put it into practice at your organization, I strongly recommend our CoachQuest Leader-as-Coach program. There you will learn and practice the leadership skills you need to address alongside leaders like you from other organizations with many of the same challenges.


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Helanie Scott
Helanie Scott
Helanie (pronounced yeh-LAH-nee) Scott, CEO and founder of Align4Profit in Dallas, Texas, has driven stunning leadership and cultural transformations for an impressive list of organizations. She has mastered the ability to connect with her audiences in the boardroom, classroom, on stage, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. Helanie’s Align4Profit clients rave at the way her engaging programs freshen outdated mindsets and deliver results-oriented, aligned action.