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Updated: Dec 11, 2023

By Mark Young

President, Rational Games, Inc.

To close out the year, please allow me to follow the lead of the Global Executive Leadership Initiative with a short reflection on how the concept of ubuntu might inform the work we do even far away from Africa.

African Ubuntu is not a kind of software (!) but rather a fairly deep and uniquely African concept of what it means to be human and thus linked ineradicably to all other humans on the planet.  That is to say that we are all part of a larger spiritual world, naturally independent and connected by a universal bond of sharing. “I am because we are” is its central tenet.

This concept goes somewhat further than Western communitarianism. Indeed, it posits that we cannot even exist in isolation.  Although Mandela was arguably the only African leader who strove to actually live and govern with this as a core value, it is a powerful call to action also to those of us in other cultures.

But what might this have to do with the Rational Games approach to leadership, negotiation and ethics?

For Leadership the answer is quite a bit.  For any approach to leadership based on authenticity, this way of thinking will resonate powerfully.  For ubuntu starts by prescribing a spirit caring and community, harmony and respect, then proposes a cultural value system that is participatory, transparent and democratic and which puts the leader’s relationship with her followers at the heart of all decisions, always fostering teamwork and modeling the way for others.  Amen!

In Negotiation the links are clear as well.  Ubuntu negotiators go beyond instrumental relationships and value collaboration as an end in itself.  While they certainly can fight for what they believe in (being a warrior is a perhaps surprising element here) it is always in the spirit of working together compassionately, even with the enemy.  Ubuntu calls for respecting multiple viewpoints (calling this “polyocular vision”), and thus co-creating solutions that transcend the lowest common denominator. While there is no mention of our concept of win-win, perhaps the realisation that we are all in this together is enough.

Finally, in Ethics, ubuntu starts with respect for the sanctity of each life and reminds us of all that we owe each other in an interconnected world.  Some of the key values that flow from this are respect, dignity, fairness, humaneness and compassion.  This is at least as convincing as any familiar utilitarian calculation or call to duty and character.

In that spirit, we at Rational Games wish you an ubuntu Christmas and a more compassionate and humane New Year.


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