/ 29 March 2009

Barney, where’s your emotional intelligence?

Daniel Goleman in his seminal work, Working with Emotional Intelligence, posits that to be a successful leader takes more than educational qualifications. You need to be emotionally intelligent, a different way of being smart!

It is seriously flawed and somewhat myopic for Barney Pityana to take such a high-profile political stand while leader of the University of South Africa, one of the country’s largest institutions of higher learning.

Surely he should have known that Unisa, like many South African universities, is a microcosm of South Africa in terms of race, gender, political affiliation et cetera.

Therefore to take a partisan political stand was bound to be divisive, surely? I would have thought that discerning such a fact is elementary and pedestrian. Isn’t the man supposed to be a professor?

I find it disconcerting that we are being implored by the likes of Prince Mashele and his cohorts to rise up and help Pityana in his battle with ANC affiliates such as the National Health and Allied Workers’ Union at Unisa (Nehawu).

If we start maintaining that Pityana is free to take partisan political stands we should accord his adversaries, such as Nehawu, the right to differ with him as well, although not necessarily to call for his sacking based on his political affiliations but on his incompetency, if such is proved.

I strongly believe that Pityana needs to be careful about ascending podiums and singing the praises of political parties because tomorrow he might have to take to the same podium against them.

Ever heard of the saying “today’s liberators are tomorrow’s dictators”?

One thing is for sure, the ANC is not an embodiment of saints. But neither is the Congress of the People (Cope). Any analysis of the two in such narrow Manichean Binary opposition is a serious indictment and an illustration of the naiveté on the part of that particular individual.

Both the ANC and Cope comprise some seriously compromised and flawed individuals.

That is not to say, however, that a university vice-chancellor cannot criticise the powers that be. They surely are free to do so but they should be measured, sophisticated and more nuanced than ordinary folk by virtue of the positions entrusted upon them.

They need to be emotionally intelligent, a different way of being smart!

Former University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Njabulo Ndebele used to express his opinions more eloquently about disconcerting behaviours in the ANC, especially in the lead-up to Polokwane. Of course some in the ANC responded, although not in as intelligent a manner as he did. But we could not blame them given that such respondents are not renowned for being men of letters!

The South African publisher Jonathan Ball published Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma’s biographies, The Dream Deferred by Mark Gevisser and Jacob Zuma: a biography by Jeremy Gordin, respectively.

Now imagine Ball standing on a podium telling us about how much he holds Thabo Mbeki in high esteem as opposed to Jacob Zuma?

Surely, those who owe their allegiance to Jacob Zuma are bound to vote with their wallets and therefore Ball would have hurt his company’s share price through his partisan political stance?

That is why those who occupy positions of national importance are called upon to be of a higher streak, a better way of being smart!

Pityana’s public frolicking with Cope is hurting the Unisa share price and it is only fair that the stakeholders (workers and students) voice their anxieties.

His overt association with Cope raises serious issues about the conduct of leaders in public institutions. Unfortunately, leadership comes with its own demands and expectations different from those bestowed on ordinary folks.

Leaders in diverse organisations should be above petty party political affiliations, if for nothing else for the smooth operations of their organisations. Surely it is not too much to ask of an individual?

It is so naive of Pityana to assume that Cope is the be-all and end-all of human virtue. His public frolicking with Cope is a profound indictment on his temperament and lack of judgment.

As Daniel Goleman posits, not even a professorship is enough where emotional intelligence is concerned.

Solani Ngobeni is an academic/scholarly publisher