So rich and yet so poor. Africa is a resource-rich continent in terms of natural and human resources. But why is a significant percentage of its population so poor? What went wrong? What is the missing link? We tackle this hefty topic in this episode with Prof. Dr. Hellicy Ng’ambi of Zambia. An academic trailblazer who has held several illustrious leadership positions, Prof. Dr. Ng’ambi has such an incredible insight into the key things that our continent’s leaders need to pay attention to make Africa the progressive global powerhouse it can be. Prof. Dr. Ng’ambi talks about the relationship between success, sustainability, and greed and the role of RARE leadership as the missing link we’re looking for. She also talks about the need for accountability among leaders, our role in the global leadership movement for change, and more. Tune in for this exciting conversation!
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Success, Sustainability, and Greed with Prof. Dr. Hellicy Ng’ambi in Zambia
RARE Leadership is the Missing Link
Our thoughtful board leader joins us from Kabwe in Zambia, a landlocked country resource rich with rugged terrain in Southern Africa. She is an academic trailblazer who drafts transformation from the head to the heart to the hands and has lived, taught, and worked in multiple African countries and the United States of America. She has two Master’s degrees, a Master’s in Science from the University of Southern Florida, a Master’s in Business Administration from Ball State University in Indiana, and a Doctorate in Business Leadership from the University of South Africa.
She spent eighteen years at the University of South Africa, initially as Executive Director and Deputy Dean for the Graduate School of Business Leadership, and then was the first female and the first Black Executive Dean of UNISA’s College of Economics and Management Sciences, the largest on the African continent. She is also the first vice chancellor in her home country Zambia. She served as vice chancellor of two universities concurrently. At Mulungushi, she transformed the university from being virtually unknown to the university of choice.
She is frequently interviewed in the media and has received multiple awards including Africa’s Most Influential Women In Business and Government Award, the 2017 African Continent Lifetime Achiever Award, and Zambia’s Public Service Excellence Award. She has also served on multiple boards, committees, and councils, including holding the position of Vice Chair of the Bank of Zambia. Keep reading as she shares with us the relationship between success, sustainability, and greed. What went wrong? What are the missing links and the need for a RARE new model of leadership? We warmly welcome Professor Dr. Hellicy Ng’ambi and welcome to the show.
Hellicy, I am so excited. At last, we’re back together and I’m so looking forward to our conversation. Thank you for making this possible.
Thank you so very much. I appreciate that you invite me to have this conversation. I’m excited about it.
You’re an expert in leadership, not only in terms of your career but also in the work you have taught at various universities in Zambia and South Africa. Could we begin with how you define leadership?
I’m not going to do a formal definition, but I’ll describe it. I’ll say leadership is more about you having a positive influence on others and wanting them to draw into a shared vision. When I say shared vision, they need to find their space in your vision. I define leadership in such a way that I’m saying it is you inspiring other people to achieve their goals. Not just their own but shared with you.
I define it in terms of sharing and you’re inspiring them. It’s not about you, but it’s about the people you’re inspiring. When I define it formally, I put all those aspects together to indicate that a leader is only a leader because they have followers. Those followers must find their space in the vision of the organization and the country at whatever level. When you inspire them, it’s not inspiring them so that they can achieve your goals but they can also become the best they can ever be to achieve their full potential. That’s how I define it.
You are a remarkable person who’s had a remarkable life. I know several things have shaped you. You’ve shared that you’re a Zambian Royal family member and had some challenging childhood beginnings. In your young life, what was particularly difficult for you? Can you describe a particular event? How did you feel at that time? What was your light bulb moment?
In my childhood, I was brought up in a remote rural area in the Northern part of Zambia. The place is called Chakosamoto Village. It’s Mafinga District, Chief Mwenichifunge. That’s where I was born. In this place, there were no schools nearby. The schools were very far away. To start school, you had to either go to a weekly boarding school or somewhere where you had relatives who could keep you near the school. In as much as the first grade, I had to go to Malawi because that’s where my grandmother was, my mother’s mother. I had to go there in the first grade. Unfortunately, we had been blocked because of a pandemic like this one in Zambia.
The Malawians blocked Zambians from going there at that time. We had to stop, and start going to weekly boarding school. It was very far from that weekly boarding school where I was going. It’s about 40 to 50 kilometers of walking distance. In between the school and our village, there was a very big river called Bemba. That river is wide. When you are crossing, if it rains upstream, you can be in the middle of the river, and the water can sweep you off. Unfortunately, several children going to school died.
Most of the village parents decided they were going to stop their girl child from going to school. Only the boys will continue going to school. Many don’t have a choice. My dad said, “You can see that your friends are not going to go to school because of the dangers and the risks involved.” You have a choice. At that very young age, he asked me, “If you are also scared and you don’t think you can manage and take this risk, don’t go to school and join the others. Look at Auntie so-and-so or grandmother so-and-so; that is going to be your life.” My grandmother also had no education and a good living.
I looked and said, “I think I’ll take a chance.” He then said, “You can also come and even help us. Should you take a risk and maybe complete your education?” I said, “I’ll take a risk.” I started taking risks, and that is one of the things I never forget because if I had decided I was not going to go ahead, join the crowd, and not go to school, I wouldn’t be here. I remember that. I’m very grateful to my late father for the advice and the choice that he gave me. It enables me to take the board’s decision to continue going to school.
In a weekly boarding school, you take your food on Sunday. You have your food to take care of yourself, and you go to this school, and that food must last you the whole week. You take everything including your bedding. I’m talking about a mat and some little blanket you have or cloth that you wrap around. You cook for yourself throughout the week. I never forget them because I learned a lot in those moments. We even started at that early age to come together. 3 or 4 people said, “Let’s cook together.” We used to go and fetch our firewood and water. There were no beds, water, or electricity. We were given an empty room. You started using paraffin and put it in a bottle. I never forget that. It’s somehow surviving that when you look back, you’ll say, “How did I do it?”
You did that and much more. Fast forward, what’s intriguing for me is that early choice of taking that risk and deciding that you wanted to be a young girl who obtained an education; you then made education a core center of your life. I’m struck by the remarkable accomplishments you’ve had. I know you were the executive director of the Graduate School of Business at UNISA, the University of South Africa. You were the first Black female Vice-Chancellor of Mulungushi University in Zambia. I’m curious, Mulungushi University at the time when you became Vice-Chancellor was virtually unknown, but you then transformed it into a university of choice.
I’m also aware that at the time, it was around 15% of government funding that the university received. You had to be pretty innovative and pioneering in how to reposition this university from being virtually unknown to financially sustainable and becoming a university of choice. Can you take us back to a time that was difficult when you assumed that Vice-chancellorship position? What was the big challenge? What was the difficulty? Briefly, how did you navigate out of that?
It was a challenge indeed. When I went to the university, I thought there was a library, lecture theaters, and laboratories. Unfortunately, those were not there. The building started in 2008. I assumed that job in 2012. I had not even been completed at all. One of the challenges that I had was to look for funding. Part of that is from the government because Mulungishi University is a public university owned by the government. They decided to use a private school model. It’s self-funding and self-financing. It was only 15%. Almost up to date, it’s still 15% that the government gives the university.
I had to go to the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance knew me by name. He was reporting to work at 07h00 hours. It was Honorable Chikwanda. Before 7:00 AM, I would be at his office coming from Kabwe, which is almost a 1.5 to 2-hour drive. He would be very surprised to the point that he would say, “I should give you an office there.” I was there quite often following up.
Another thing, we began some agriculture activities to raise funding for the university. We took on some challenges like self-catering and accommodating people when they want to have conferences. We started raising funds. Some of it was from the sponsorships so we could build some infrastructure.
When I was there, there were only four schools in the University. By the time I was gone, it was about eight. We had to arrange some of the things, restructure, and made some aspects to make sure that we can sustain ourselves and use our resources to ensure that every stakeholder benefits from this university and it moves forward. It grows and sustains itself. We ended up with a school of medicine, and we built that school with our resources without government support. We finished off the library, the theaters, and the laboratories. We equipped our laboratories with our funding. We even had the first moot court (a mock trial court). We’re the first university to do that in Zambia. We always took advantage of whatever it is we had to build.
It was for law students, but we also opened it up for judiciary court sessions. The people would come and have court sessions. We even built a holding room so that if they come with prisoners, they can hold them there. We had to be very innovative. We had restaurants. One of our schools of medicine is in Livingstone. Livingstone is far away from the main campus, near Victoria Falls. We have got so many neighboring countries, like Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana. We drew from that as well so we can service them. It was several initiatives. Business incubators brought us the funding that helped us build this university.
Also, we introduced certain kinds of aspects. One of the most talked about was introducing a signature academic course that talked about values within society because we realized that people could be very intelligent. Still, most of the thieves and sophisticated people who do all sorts of things are very intelligent. Without values, you cannot sustain yourself. We introduced that as well within the course. Every student that comes here will take a course on how to sustain behaviors, including RARE values, Responsible, Accountable, Relevant, and Ethical values. As a Vice-Chancellor, I was also helping and teaching on that particular module to enforce the importance of strong clear values.People can be very intelligent. But without values, you cannot sustain yourself. Click To Tweet
That’s a wonderful segway because, to your point, education without values will not sustain success. You introduced a course called ‘Sustainability and Greed’ at UNISA, the University of South Africa. This is something important to you. The fact that this was a signature course is significant. Can you share with us how would you talk about the relationship between success, sustainability, and greed? In your mind, what do you think the relationship is? How would you define success? Let’s begin there.
To me, success is about achieving goals and objectives that will add value to the people that you work with, the stakeholder’s goals, and with an internal intent that will improve their livelihood not just today but sustain that. That’s why we come sustaining, meaning it’s continuous. I improve, and I do something to make sure the next person who is going to come will also do better than I did and improve and continue to pass on that pattern. That is sustainability. Conversely, if whatever I’m doing now is only for me, and I destroy what could sustain another person tomorrow, then I’m not emphasizing success or sustainability.
Only if whatever I’m doing now, I’m ensuring that it’s sustaining everybody but also whoever is going to come after me, it can sustain them, and they can learn from that and do the same and sustain the others. We are passing on the success and the sustainable burden to each other. In everything that we do, whether it’s in terms of the environment, the class organization, or you’re manufacturing, whereever you are, you are saying, “What I’m doing now? Am I helping somebody? Am I equipping them for them to be able to come and help someone tomorrow who can also help whoever is going to come after them?” We’re talking about sustainability.
Why did you call that course at the University of South Africa, Sustainability and Greed?’
The greed part came in because, at that time, as you recall, there was an economic meltdown, and people can become very greedy. If you were to use that greed to get something to help another person, you can end up sustaining. If you use that greed for yourself in the way that we traditionally define it, then you’ll be destructive and will not sustain anything, anyone, or the future.
We’ve decided to combine the word greed with sustainability because we realized that the significant challenge we have in not being sustainable is greed. When people are wanting self-greed, it’s not always me. It’s myself and the people that are surrounding me. We cannot sustain ourselves. If you say, “I am not going to be greedy in terms of myself, but whatever I do, I’ll look at the other, how I’m adding value, how I’m being relevant, and how I’m prepping them to become better,” then there will be sustainability.
What’s interesting about that is you’ve also referred to the fact that Africa, as a continent, is resource-rich. Yet as a continent, it’s also very poor for its average citizen. Can you talk to us about your concern about why is Africa sitting in this conflicted, paradoxical situation?
When I went to do my second Master’s in Leader at the University of South Florida, where I also taught, what prompted me to do that was I started reflecting. I thought it does not make sense. We have so many resources that sustain the whole global village. Yet we are so poor in every other aspect. What is happening? I realized that there was something that was lacking. It was not that African people were not intelligent, but something is missing. It’s a missing link. I realized that the missing link is we became somehow intoxicated. We became toxic, in other words. Somewhere, greed also came in, and we lost our core values or the ability to value each other.
We no longer wanted every person to benefit. All the sources entrusted us to benefit the continent and our organizations. It started like, “I want them for me. Those that support me or sing praise songs for me.” It was then easier for us to start selling, even at a very low cost of what we have in our resources and not wanting to say, “How can we use it for the continent and the people of Africa?”
One of the things is division. Part of the tribalism, there’s racism and whatever the ‘isms’ came in. We started fighting each other instead of uniting and working together as a continent. That felt as well. There was the aspect of the party and slavery. Even so, I always feel that if we had maintained our strong values, we could not have sought each other out. It didn’t matter who offered us what. We should have been able to say, “This is my child. This is my brother. I cannot sell them.” Somehow, our values became questionable. I know there were many factors. I understand that.
Could you share some of them?
I’m talking about factors in terms of the history of slavery. Everybody knows how it started. As people in Africa not having reached a certain level of development at that time and having certain kinds of ideologies, they were being taught, “To be better, you have to have this and do that.” They were not necessarily making people better but greedy and self-centered.
If anybody offers and tells you you have to kill another person to be better or you have to destroy another person and pull them down or something like that, it cannot be sustained. Those are some of the aspects I’m saying that there were economic or political factors. There were pressures and war, but at the end of it all, if we kept our solid values and said, “It doesn’t matter. I’d rather die,” then probably the story would’ve been different. Something somewhere they went wrong.
Do you have an example that you’re passionate about that comes to mind of somebody who appeared to be climbing the ladder of success and then got greedy? There are many examples in the world, but is there an example close to you that comes to mind that is an excellent illustration of the fact that greed ultimately leads to people’s demise?
There are quite a number of them that usually ring in my mind. Let me talk about a couple of Africans. There are also many. I don’t want to be Afro-pessimistic because there are so many others, even globally, but Africa is near my heart. That’s why I talk a lot and give the good, the bad, and the ugly examples in terms of Africa. Not because Africa is the only one, because all over the world, there are sorts of it. Robert Mugabe studied very well. He was somebody that I looked up to.
Robert Mugabe, the former President of Zimbabwe, is an intelligent man. Somehow somewhere, something went wrong. Zimbabwe uses the currency of another country, like the USA dollar. That is one of the examples that I said. There are many others. It was a developed, very beautiful country, and we were excited about him. At the end of the day, Zimbabwe became poor, and people left their country.
Many would say that we have an accountability crisis in the world. We are not genuinely holding people responsible and accountable for their misdemeanors or wrongdoings. We all make mistakes. We know that. I’m curious about your excellent work on RARE Total Leadership. You authored that book using the RARE model, with R being for Responsibility, A for Accountability, R for Relevance, and E for Ethics. Could you talk to us about why you put together those four elements? That’s the first question, but then I’d like you to zoom in on the issue and your thoughts around accountability. Is it, or is it not working in the world?
RARE is Responsible, Accountability, Relevant and Ethical leadership. When you are entrusted with the resources in an organization at every level, you have the people, other financial resources, and material resources. If you use those resources only with the question, “What am I going to get out of it,” as the number one reason or criterion, you will lose it. You have to first ask the question, “How am I going to make the people around me better, more productive, more relevant themselves, and fulfill their full potential in increasing productivity?”
“How am I going to use these resources, like human resources, to do that so that this organization that I’m entrusted in and the people with it become better and more productive?” Can you influence others to say, “Look at whom I have become? I never imagined I could be at this level.” If that is your focus, then you are being responsible, and you can hold yourself also accountable for the resources entrusted to you. Accountability is very critical. If you are not accountable, can you imagine what you would be able to do?
Whatever they entrust with you, let’s say $1 billion, you start thinking of where you can go for vacations or how you can start making up some trips. In Zambia, if you go anywhere or when you go and sleep outside your house, you’ll get an allowance. They’ll pay for your accommodation, feed you and give you an allowance. During regular working hours, you’re working, but when you go out there, people will make trips elsewhere to get allowances.
You mean they’re not going for business reasons. They’re motivated to go for personal reasons but put it down as a business trip.
This is not unique to Zimbabwe. I found it happens in several other countries too. It’s the primary reason they want to go and have a retreat, a workshop, or as a team. I’m not saying that those are wrong. I’m saying if the motive for going there are allowances, then when they’re there, the emphasis, their mindset, or whatever they’re going to do is not going to be, “How can we achieve the objectives, the vision, the goals?” They are more like, “As long as I’ve got an allowance.” As a result, accountability becomes a challenge both at the organizational and national levels.
How would you define accountability? Where do you think it goes wrong at a national or organizational level?
I tried to simplify as much as possible. Accountability means you are entrusted with some resources to meet the vision, goals, and objectives of that organization in that country. If you don’t want yourself answerable for those resources and no one else holds you answerable for those resources, very few people are rare enough to say, “I will be honest in my dealings and continue to be responsible.” They will squander them. You need to learn how to hold yourself responsible and accountable and what I call relevant, always wanting to add value and your conduct if you’re going to sustain whatever it is that you’re doing.
The problem with a continent like Africa is that there are many initiatives. I know quite a number of those to unite the continent to even have one continent, one passport, and hold each other accountable. It hasn’t happened until now. We still don’t have a proper workable mechanism to hold each other accountable and say, “What you have done is wrong, and these are the consequences,” because there must be consequences. Nobody will respect rules and regulations if there are no consequences and it’s just on paper. There must be inevitable clear implementable consequences based on an organization at the national or continental level to say, “We agree on 1, 2, 3, 4. You don’t do this. This will be the negative consequences that will hinder them from doing or being not accountable.”
Some people would argue that there are consequences. If there is wrongdoing or poor bad behavior, people get reprimanded, or there is some suffering. If you were designing a system of accountability, what would be the critical aspects of that system to ensure that the accountability model works?
You’re saying that people get reprimanded. If you will put in prison or ask you to pay back, and that was not there, wouldn’t anybody do whatever they want to do? I’m saying that people get reprimanded, but how many presidents have been reprimanded? They only get reprimanded after they step down. By that time, they have already destroyed everything. If we had a system where we say we have a peer mechanism, which Africans have already started working on, every year, we would’ve got some performance management system at the continental or national levels.
Suppose that year; we see that you have not cut down on corruption or bribery or shown us anything to cut down levels of unemployment and resolve destructive conflicts. In that case, we will remove you from sharing these resources we have been sharing as a region. Whatever it is, there should be something that can be measured. You can say, “At this level, this person has done 1, 2, 3, 4. If they don’t do it, these will be the consequences.” The behavior can be corrected sooner than after they have served 10 or 15 years. By the time you arrest them, the whole country is done. The organization (or the country) is gone.
It’s a more immediate system of regular performance management.
Yes, because if you leave it too long, you’re always in repair mode. You’re constantly repairing unless you can do it in such a way. Let me put my leadership level where I was. We did a performance management system at the University of South Africa and the graduate School of Business and Leadership. We started that, and it spread out to the whole university. We started an integrated management performance system. We had people who worked with that system. Every quarter, you have little feedback. In every media, you have proper feedback. At the end of the year, you must assist the whole year. For those that did not perform, there were penalties.
If there was a performance bonus, there was no performance bonus for you. Your contract can be terminated sooner than later, depending on the damage done. In that regard, even at Mulungushi University, under my leadership, we introduced an integrated performance management system, and we are evaluating that performance. Sometimes people don’t know what to do. That’s why they fail. If at least they can know what they’re aiming for and the consequences if they fail, it’ll be easier for them to do their best and be productive and committed.
What is it about the whole model that you’ve put together? If we look at RARE as your model, why are those four factors equally crucial in the model?
Those four factors I also call principle-based. They’re not principles but are principle-based and leadership value systems because they are principle-based. Everybody knows that you need to be responsible. If you take somebody’s item without their permission, that’s not safe. That is everywhere. If you approve your leave or loan, for example, not your boss, that is wrong everywhere. That’s why I say it’s principle-based. Responsibility is universal. It’s critical. You cannot sustain anything if you’re not responsible for whatever is given to you at any level. Be it in the house, school, any community, or anywhere; it cannot be sustained if you’re not responsible for what has been entrusted to you.Responsibility is universal. It's critical. You cannot sustain anything if you're not responsible for whatever is given to you at any level. Click To Tweet
If you’re not accountable, you cannot sustain. It cannot be sustained if you’re not relevant, always asking if you’re adding value to whatever you’re doing. If you’re ethical to talk integrity and zero corruption, but you are the most corrupt person, people still do what you do, not what you say. Those are the four things. Being responsible, accountable, relevant, and ethical are values to me that are critical because you cannot kill another person if you’re RARE. You cannot want to steal from another person. You cannot pull her or him from down syndrome, as they call it, Ph.D. syndrome. You cannot do that. Your success will be reflected in the success of your followers and those you have mentored and coached.
You feel good that way if you’re a RARE person. That’s why those four pillars are very critical for sustainability. You can be intelligent and come up with all creative ideas. Still, if you cannot be responsible, accountable, relevant, and ethical in your conduct, you’ll self-distracted and cut yourself short, one or the other. It’ll backfire on you, and you’ll be unable to sustain. That’s at every level, whether it’s in the home. The rate of divorce is so high in homes. Why? Children are on all sorts of things. That is tragic if a six-year-old child can take a gun and shoot a teacher. At that age, I could never even imagine doing that. Now, our values are getting too bad as we go on instead of having more better and ethical values.
If we look at the world as it is now and the most significant threats and challenges facing the world, it’s the question of ethics and values is one of them. You’re very passionate about that, but can you summarize what you think the current biggest threats are for this time? Not only threats but challenges and opportunities.
The first challenge that we talk about is usually volatility.
I’m saying specifically.
Specifically, you are saying from values. Apart from the depressed values, I can say the level of inequality. By that, I’m talking about poverty. Inequality breeds poverty. That is a big challenge. I live in South Africa and Zambia. Those are my two countries. If you talk about South Africa and look at the unemployment level, the poverty level we’re talking about is almost 56%. It shouldn’t be like that. Those are the immediate challenges that any person faces. It’s like, “How do I sit here, eat what I’m eating and enjoy what I’m enjoying when 55% of my neighbors are living in poverty and unemployed?”
They don’t even know where the next meal of bread will come from. What is happening with my resources if I fail to even give a loaf of bread to everybody in the country or the community? A few people immerse themselves, be it in Africa or anywhere else. We don’t know how to share and equip others to be independent. By sharing, I’m not talking about just sharing. I give them bread, but I must also teach them how to come up with that bread. I must teach them not to give them a mango but how it is grown so they can have their own mangoes.
I must teach them the skills and competencies. I must respect them for their poverty and unemployment. I should also teach them that employment is not about you going to be employed by another person. You can be self-employed at whatever level you are if you have the appropriate skills. Teaching people appropriate skills, competencies, attitudes, and values is critical. Those would stay. Those aspects are very close to my heart to say they’re critical if we change anything in this world and sustain it, even in Africa.
Briefly, where do you think it went wrong? What went wrong?
I have been trying to study that and find out what went wrong. It’s the understanding of what success I could have talked about and what it means to be better off that got mapped into something else. The tribal wars could have also added to that. That could all have played a role in corrupting the original African values. When somebody bombards you, sometimes this is what you become. That’s why sometimes you need to be decolonized. You become colonized, and you think, “This is better.” We always say when something is out there, it sounds like it’s very good and better than what you have here.
When people come, and you think they’re presenting something better than what you have, you don’t value what you have. That’s the core part. You’ll always think what another person has is better. We stopped valuing who we are as Africans and what we have. We start thinking this is at the bush. When other people come, they see farms and industries, and what they can use is bush. Somehow we lost it. We did not understand the value of who we are and what we have. That is why I keep on saying we need to reclaim that. It’s okay to be African and be a woman.We have stopped valuing who we are as Africans. We need to be comfortable with that identity. We must believe in our identity. We must believe that what we have is valuable. Click To Tweet
We need to be comfortable. That’s our identity. We must believe in our identity. We must believe that what we have is valuable. Otherwise, all these minerals we have, people are coming for them. If they were useless, why would somebody come from the UK, the US, China, every place? Why would they come to Africa if what we have is useless? We need to put a value on what we have. Even when we go on any level or at a market level, we can stand as eco partners and say, “I demand this for what I have, which will benefit my children, my family, my continent, and my community.”
Rather than, “This is just what,” you give it at very little value. Most of them, as we know, it gets manufactured elsewhere and in industries. It’s sold back ten times more than the price that you go and bought it. They say, “I’m coming from overseas, and this is what I bought,” when that material was bought and came from you. We need to be at a very higher level and know that we can add value. We have what the whole global village requires. It’s us, the African continent. We need to believe in ourselves, and we’ve got very intelligent people.
They’re incredible and remarkable change-makers across the continent. Let’s talk about one of them. We both admire Nelson Mandela. For you, he has been a RARE leader and a remarkable champion of change, not only for Africa but for the world. Can you take us back to a specific moment you recall, like a date, a time, a place, or a Mandela Moment where something he said or stood out, inspired you, shaped you, or helped you become the remarkable woman you are now?
Thank you very much. Mandela did a lot for me in terms of inspiring me. The specific one I recall very well was on the 16th of September 1995. He was being given a Doctorate at the University of South Africa. I had heard him talking many times. I’d listen to the speeches of others, but when he was in his acceptance speech, I got so motivated. At that time, I had not yet done my second Master’s and my Doctorate. Seeing him there receiving his honor and degree Doctorate, having studied through UNISA while in prison, his determination and humility are inspiring.
Some of his sayings are, “One of the most difficult things is not to change society but to change yourself.” That motivated me so much. It’s to change yourself because if I don’t change, I can talk about being RARE. If I don’t do my best to practice RARE values, I cannot change anyone. I cannot change society or any institution. When people look at leasing money, they must see this leasing man who is responsible, accountable, relevant, and ethical in his conduct in any direction. They should see that. When he said that, I had not even come up with this RARE.
Did his acceptance speech inspire that?
Yes. That’s his speech. It inspired me a lot. Another thing is not being bitter as a leader. That also touched me to say, “If we keep ourselves in prison, we think we are free.” It’s because we are so bitter we go into a position. Instead of having a vision of how you can improve this place, you are obsessed with getting back at whoever. You thought it was putting you down, you are the president, or whatever you want, you start hunting on them. You start doing all sorts of things, wasting time. I’ll give you an example. When I went to Mulungushi University, there was a vice chancellor before, the one who started the university. The people would tell stories, “We know what this Vice Chancellor is.” I said, “I’m not like that.”When we think we are free, we keep ourselves in prisons. Click To Tweet
Sometimes, they’ll push things down and tell stories of who you should be and what this one does. I said, “I don’t operate that. I don’t do those things at all.” I called all of them in one big hall. I said, “Let me tell you how I operate. We are here now. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do to get there?” I went through all the schools individually, talking to them, and then we agreed on where we wanted to go. They also agreed with the RARE values. We took them to our council, which is like a board of the council. They approved. The two strategic plans of Mulungunshi University and their values are adopted with RARE values.
They agreed because it was inspired by Mandela’s not being bitter. Otherwise, what was I going to do with it? I was going to say, “Witch-hunting now? With this one, what did they do? Why did they do what they did?” You waste a lot of time wanting to get at whoever did whatever and maybe whomever you think blocked you. “Who didn’t vote for me to become a vice-chancellor?” You start doing all sorts of things, which is more examples than what Mandela did. It inspired me as well. I say, “You need to learn to let go, forgive, and focus on the future and building and taking everyone with you as you go to the future other than wanting to revenge.” If there’s anyone who is justified in revenge, it is Mandela, but he didn’t.
How did you feel that day you listened to him?
I was like, “Bitterness, you are gone. Help me, Lord. I don’t want to be bitter anymore. I don’t want a witch-hunt anymore. I’m going to focus on how I can build other people. I can add value and have this visual that takes everybody. I can focus on the most special ones.” Mandela focused on ensuring South Africans were free, be they Black, White, or whatever color. Everybody is accessible and working together like Martin Luther King. It was like, “Let me not waste time in whatever my journey of leadership and witch-hunting.”
That’s why I gave that example. Let me not waste time looking at who went wrong where. I’ll take my team with me. If they do something, we’ll stay from here. We’re going to do 1, 2, 3, 4 and move on without me having to focus on what happened behind me. It’s like what they’re saying, “If you are driving and you’re looking backward, you cause an accident.” If you are walking, you must be focused. People will say all sorts of things but be focused and go on. Learn to be resilient because people will try to mess you up. Whatever it is or whatever situation, bounce back and go on.
Do you think Mandela’s leadership example is relevant now? If so, why?
It’s relevant now because the leadership style of Mandela was a beauty. It was a beauty, uniting and using resources for development and helping everybody. It was destroying poverty and destructive conflict. If they look at the level of conflict worldwide, it has escalated. It’s shocking. You hear people in the countries killing each other. Every single time you turn on the TV, anywhere else, it’s always about violence. It’s always about somebody wanting to kill somebody, destroy another person, or wanted to grab something from another person. It’s always like that. Any time when Mandela’s leadership approach was relevant, it’s because we need to say, “Look at what he did.”
He could have thrown all the Whites into the sea. He could have chased them out. He could ask, “What would I get, and where would South Africa people be now?” They’ll be destroyed in as much as there are still challenges, but at least we have an example in Mandela that we can follow. His leadership style, humanity, love for people, development, and a better future is amazing. If it doesn’t inspire you or anyone, I don’t know what to inspire them.
I love your passion, Hellicy. It warms my heart because I feel that inspiration. Shifting slightly some fun facts about you. What is your favorite thing to do in your downtime? You’ve had a very demanding career. It’s a well-deserved sabbatical. What is your favorite thing to do in your downtime to recharge?
I do some work. I work a little bit, but the thing I like is dancing. I can put something all by myself by dancing.
What kind of music do you dance to?
I dance to different music, but most of the music I dance to is gospel kind of music. There’s a good beat of some very lovely gospel music. I’ll put it there, and I sing along. I’m not a singer, but I sing and dance along. I like meeting people as well and socializing. I enjoy that. I’m not an introvert. I’m an extrovert. In my time, I like singing and dancing. I walk sometimes, and as I’m walking, I’m singing.
Another fun fact is your time in the United States. Coming to the United States, studying here, and teaching here, what did that mean to you?
It exposed me to a lot, especially regarding cultural differences and diversity. First, Indiana is more reserved. Florida was a little bit different. People are more open to a lot of things. Oregon State was a very closed kind of community. It taught me to be flexible and understand that differences may be uncomfortable, but it’s not wrong. Some people can be different, and things can be done differently. It may be uncomfortable to me or others, but it’s not wrong.
Embracing cultural differences, diversity, and inclusion taught me how to understand. It’s okay. You can operate anywhere, but be flexible and embrace enough. Don’t think that your ideas are the best. Maybe other people’s ideas are better than yours. Learn from them and become better at improving other people’s lives as well as yourself.
The third fun fact I’d like to know about you is how many siblings you have and how many children are in your family. What has been your biggest secret to crashing through these glass ceilings as a woman?
In terms of the siblings, together, we were twelve. My mother had three sets of twins, but three passed a little earlier. Nine of us grew together. Most of them are gone now. Only six of us remained, and mostly girls. The boys seem to want to go very fast. I grew up in a big family. In terms of my children, I’ve got two who are old. I’ve got quite a big group. I have five grandchildren now. My children made me a grandmother relatively young, but that’s okay. It didn’t add to my age, so I enjoyed my grandchildren. In terms of raising children, I raised seven. Some of those are my older brothers and older sisters’ children. I raised them together. I raised 5 of my siblings’ children, and my own are 2. My house has always been very busy.
Being a woman, what’s the secret of crashing through the glass ceiling?
Regarding the secret of crashing through the glass ceiling, I do my best to be very positive and non-violent in my response to discrimination. That’s what has helped me the most. I always find a strategic way of addressing discrimination. For example, the time I had to go with my late husband for studies. I got a scholarship as a staff development fellow at the University of Zambia. At that time, they had a policy that every year, they offered scholarships so that they could go and start, come back, teach, and lecture as faculty.
I was one of the few that was blessed to have that scholarship. Most of my colleagues were men, so that they would go with their wives. When I spoke to my husband, our child was six months old; I said, “I would appreciate it if you could come with me so we can raise our child together. I’m sure they will also have opportunities for you to study in Indiana.” After I convinced him, he agreed. I went to work and said, “My husband is going to come with me.” I was categorical told, “No, you cannot go with your husband or the forms everywhere. Do not say about the policies or the process. You cannot.” I had to appeal to the staff development officer.
I said, “When I come back, am I going to do any different work from the men?” They said no. “When they go, are they going to study different programs or better work from me?” No. “When they go with their wives, their wives will support them. Am I going to need any different kind of support? Wouldn’t I also need the support that they would need from my husband?” I had to use that approach for them to, later on, say, “You’re right.” They started changing all the forms. I was the first woman at the University of Zambia to have a husband accompany her to go to do studies.
It was also the same in terms of accommodation. When my husband and I returned, he was unemployed because he had decided to join me. He had also managed to do his Master’s, but he had not yet found a job in Zambia, so he didn’t have accommodation. When I applied for my accommodation, which they were allocated to all the other staff members, I was told no. They say that they cannot accommodate a married woman. I did not go in making noise or breaking anything. I responded in writing and said, “Thank you very much. I appreciate that you acknowledge me as a married woman. Since you have acknowledged me like that, I want to indicate that, from now onwards, I will only teach 2 courses, not 4. I need to attend to my marital duties. I’ll only have these hours for students to see me.”
I also indicated all married women’s duties in the Zambian context. To cut a long story short, after they received my letter, we did not fight. They handed me the keys and allocated me a house. It’s a non-violent approach, and I believe it helped them understand. “Why are we doing this?” “It’s because they’re teaching the same courses and got the same laws.” “Why do we accommodate married men and not married women?” Sometimes people do those things because they don’t know better. Sometimes enlightening them in a non-violent way helps.
That’s a very powerful lesson. I do want to ask one other thing. How has it shaped you being a member of the royal family in Zambia? How has that shaped your life and career, if at all?
It did. My dad, Chakosamoto, a member of the senior chiefs, used to say, “I can’t go to any other village. It’s voluntary.” If you don’t care about the people, they can leave the village, and you can be all by yourself. It will no longer be a village. If you’re a village headman or chief, it depends on these people who volunteer to be with you. People will not care. They only appreciate you if they know that you care for them, whatever you know, or don’t know.
They’ll stay with you and stick with you. It’s very important that wherever you are, ensure that people don’t care until they know that you care. Don’t look down on anybody, and don’t think that anyone is less important or has no value. Every person that is with you has value in your life. You must also make sure you add that value to other people. Wherever you are at whatever level, whether you’re at the top or the bottom. Even if you’re cleaning, don’t clean because somebody is looking at you. Clean because you know that’s the right thing to do. I learned those values from that royal part of it, whether it was my dad’s values, but to me, I thought he was using the example of the people in the village itself.Don't think that anyone is less important or have no value. Every person that is with you has a value in your life. And so you must also make sure you add that value to other people. Click To Tweet
Even when he’s grooming us, he talks about it a lot. He would encourage us a lot in terms of that. It did play a role in as much as we’re in a poor village. There’s a saying, “I’d rather be poor and be peaceful than be rich and have conflict, fights, and divisions.” In that, I would say we were peaceful enough and grew peacefully despite the poverty we have been at. It’s because of the values we had. It’s looking out for each other, always supporting other people, and ensuring that wherever you are, it’s not just about you. It’s about everybody who’s in that place.
As we say in Africa, it takes a village. Hellicy, thank you so much. Our final closing moments. Any final thoughts about the future of leadership? Any message to our generation and the next and any final thoughts you think that Nelson Mandela would say to the leaders of Africa and the world now?
You would say grow up and start thinking of other people if you want to be better. In the future of leadership, you need to be bold enough to say no to anything. For anyone that holds back development, we need to say no. If we don’t say no, we’ll go round and round. We need to say no to toxic behaviors. We didn’t need to say no to all these devices, but with the conflicts and all that, we needed to say no.Grow up and start thinking of other people if you want to be better. Click To Tweet
Please start being a people, caring for each other and all that is entrusted to us because even God himself, when he put us here, said, “We should be able to take care of the resources given to us.” Can we at least answer that call of taking responsibility and being accountable for what is entrusted to us, adding value, and being ethical in what we do? Can we be RARE to future leaders? Can we be Responsible, Accountable, Relevant, and Ethical from the house to the schools, institutions, organizations, the top of the nation, the continent, and the global village? Can we be RARE and sustain ourselves and our futures?
To my RARE and wonderful friend, thank you so much, Hellicy. Thank you for sharing your passion, vision, knowledge, and RARE capabilities and principles with the world. I’m so grateful to you.
Thank you so very much for having me. I appreciate it. It has been such an honor for me. I’m humbled that I could be part of your programs. I feel valued and appreciated. Thank you so much for involving me in this work and this great, wonderful family that is future looking and always looking toward sustainability.
Most, if not all of us, want successful, meaningful, and prosperous lives. It’s interesting that the African continent is so resource-rich but still so poor. What happened? What went wrong? What is the missing link? Corruption worldwide fueled by greed and self-serving interests undermines economic development. It intensifies poverty, inequality, social unrest, and the environmental crisis. This challenge and the story are not unique to Africa. Worldwide, we have witnessed a frenzy of people wanting to make the quick, fast buck and wanting the rapid rise to the top, no matter how they get there. All in search of personal fame, fortune, and power but at what cost?
Significantly, will greed and self-serving interests deliver sustainable success? Professor Dr. Hellicy Ng’ambi and her RARE Total Leadership model help us dig deeper. What is RARE? It’s being Responsible, Accountable, Relevant, adding value, and Ethical. Expanding a little more, if we think about being responsible, there’s no free ride in this life journey. At birth, we are gifted with free natural resources. The air we breathe, the oceans we’re swimming and the mountains we climb. We each have a duty and a responsibility to be more, do more, and give back to our communities and the world.
Being accountable keeps us honest. It is a performance management incentive system if you like. For every choice, there’s a consequence. The critical questions are what behaviors do we measure, reward, and punish? Do the reward and punishment align with what truly motivates or disincentivizes people? Is there a sufficient consequence for the reward for good behavior or the punishment for bad behavior? Do we applaud, award, and publish when people do things well or behave well? If so, where and how often? If the cost of doing wrong is less than the cost of doing business, we are not holding people accountable.
Relevant: what value are we adding to our corporations, societies, our world? It’s not about ‘me.’ It never was. In Africa, our gracious gift of ubuntu embeds a deep understanding that our human interdependence defines who we are. What happened to those core cultural values and ways of living?
When it comes to ethical issues, there are critical questions too. Why do good people go bad? Why is moral courage not enough? How do we fortify our moral courage? The work and the insights from our dear friend, Professor Dr. Hellicy Ng’ambi, reveal that greed will trip us up. To sustain success as she has done in her remarkable life requires RARE leaders: Responsible, Accountable, Relevant by adding value, and Ethical. You, too, can be a RARE leader and achieve sustainable success.
Until next time, remember that leading boldly is about making thoughtful, clear choices. Bold leadership is about taking bold action, just one small step at a time. One step for you, but together, a giant step for humanity. Come back soon, share with your friends, and join this global leadership movement for change. Why? It’s because the world needs you to lead boldly. Take care and take thoughtful, bold action.
- Professor Dr. Hellicy Ng’ambi
- RARE Total Leadership
About Professor Dr. Hellicy Ng’ambi
Experienced Vice Chancellor (President) with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. Skilled strategic leader & Change management & workforce diversity expert. Strong business development professional with two Masters degrees from Ball State and University of South Florida, USA and Doctor of Business Leadership focused in Organizational Leadership from Unisa, SBL, South Africa. Leadership consultant, researcher and author of RARE Total Leadership book and articles. Author of Principle based RARE (Responsible, Accountable Relevant, Ethical) values.