April 3, 2022

Do We Need Ubuntu?

Ubuntu is "a deeply personal philosophy that calls on us to mirror our humanity for each other." Doing so in the manufacturing sector can lead to significant gains in productivity and, more importantly, employee wellbeing.
What is Ubuntu?

My wife introduced me to the Ubuntu philosophy about 18 months before developing the initial humanist manufacturing framework.  The philosophy, as explained by Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr, is an African belief that "we owe our selfhood to others, that, if you will, no man/woman is an island."  Flippin further shares that Ubuntu is "a deeply personal philosophy that calls on us to mirror our humanity for each other." For Africans living in Ubuntu, this means treating others with openness, personal dignity, unquestioning cooperation, warmth, and willing participation - a leadership style aligning well with our exploration of humanist commitments.  In Christianity, this could be described as similar to servant-leadership.

"You might have much of the world's riches, and you might hold a portion of authority, but if you have no Ubuntu, you do not amount to much." - Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Do Humanist Commitments Align with Ubuntu?

While all ten humanist commitments from the previous blog posts are not implicit, it is not a reach to believe that they are integral to this philosophy.  Similarly, each leader does not need to score a hypothetical 10 of ten points for a perfect score of 100 to be a humanist manufacturing leader.  Instead, what is important is to assess our current capability to lead others and how to improve ourselves as leaders capable of guiding an organization to becoming a humanist manufacturing operation.  

Knowing Ourselves

Much like a building cannot be built on an unstable foundation, the work to become a more humanist manufacturing operation should begin with an overall leader assessment.  Whether new to the job or a seasoned veteran, we can benefit from taking an inventory of our current approach to leading an organization and the benefits derived from determining a personal growth plan.  Therefore, instead of beginning at the organization's top, we will flip this perspective to one where it starts at the bottom.  

Completing a Thorough Self Assessment

The organization leader should complete a comprehensive personal assessment using the foundation analogy.  Leaders who truly understand the individual attributes they bring to their work can more efficiently and effectively facilitate transformation success.  The perspective needed to maximize this leadership assessment work will be to focus on the positive, be truly honest with ourselves, be willing to accept feedback from others, and be interested in adopting or more fully integrating the humanist commitments.  Leaders willing to do so have a more significant opportunity to create a work environment where each stakeholder can maximize their potential for the collective betterment of all.  An employee-centric environment stimulates creativity and innovation that allows ideas to blossom into reality through free-flowing communication.  

A Focus on What is Wrong

I began my career in machine repair and rebuilding in the manufacturing industry.  My employer was a company that bought and sold new and used machinery and did repair and overhaul work of equipment for customers.  As you can imagine, my job was to find out what was wrong with a down machine or line and get it back into production as quickly as possible.

Downward Negative Spirals

Over the years, I transitioned into engineering and plant management roles, where the trend focused on what was wrong.  It might be solving a quality concern, finding a replacement for an absent employee, or expediting a late shipment to a customer.  In most cases, it was all a hands-on deck to resolve whatever negative issue we were facing, often at other projects' expense.  Unfortunately, it seemed to perpetuate a downward negative spin of one crisis after another.

The Positive Doctor

Thankfully Dr. Jackie Stavros entered my life when I was accepted into the Doctor of Business Administration program at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, MI.  She first introduced me to Appreciative Inquiry, which draws from positive psychology.  My initial reaction was that it was a bit "touchy-feely."   I remember her telling me that this was a reaction she usually received from engineering types.

The SOAR Framework

As my coursework progressed, she introduced her SOAR Framework for strategic planning.  SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, & Results) focuses on institutional strengths.  The work uses a positive lens that seeks to understand the whole system by including all relevant stakeholders' internal and external voices in the organization.  Later, we will look at how to use SOAR as a strategic planning approach for the whole organization, but it is also applicable at the individual level.

Positivity in Action

I adopted the positive lens approach during my last plant manager assignment.  Unfortunately, when I arrived, the plant was experiencing significant downtime, quality problems, and most production lines failed to make their daily production rate.  Applying a positive lens, I would go to the whiteboards at the end of each line, where the line leader posted the various production results for each shift.  I would look for favorable results and write comments about them.  It was difficult to do early on, but there was increasingly good news as the weeks and months passed.  

Positive Results

I began to routinely have line leaders come to me smiling from ear to ear to share they "made rate" during that shift.  Our quality defects went down, and machine uptime improved as well.  If I was away or returned to the plant late and went home without writing these notes, they would ask me why none were left the previous day when I returned.  It was not the only change we made, but I know that focusing on what the hourly workforce was doing right was a key driver in our success.  

Key Takeaway

One might think that there is no need to shift from determining what is wrong but instead focusing on what is right with our organizations.  However, my experience has found this a primary key to maximizing organization potential in multiple environments where I have engaged as a manager and consultant.  While doing so, I treated those in the plant with the "openness, personal dignity, unquestioning cooperation, warmth, and willing participation" of Ubuntu.  Think about your own experiences – did you achieve the most in a positive environment with Ubuntu traits or a negative one?  

Next Step

Shola Richards shares how Ubuntu changed his life in a TEDx Talk Ubuntu: The One Word to Change How You Work, Live and Lead.  He shares how he tried to take his life while working in a deeply toxic environment.  What pulled him out of the darkness was Ubuntu.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
My Gratitude

I am grateful to those like Bishop Tutu that work as human rights activists.  He played a significant role in his opposition to apartheid in South Africa, acknowledged by receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace.   If he encourages us to adopt Ubuntu, it is likely something we should embrace.    

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will look at the need for leaders to expand their current knowledge base to strengthen the adoption of the humanist manufacturing framework.

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit emmanuelstratgicsustainability.com.

Contact me if you need help with the manufacturing support services of consulting, coaching, Fractional Chief Sustainability Officer, or training/reskilling at 734-664-9076.

See my virtual TEDx Videos at Reinventing the Prison Industrial Complex and Humanist Manufacturing.

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Cover Image Credit: Tatiana Martinez Golovina

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