James A. Joseph is the only U.S. ambassador to South Africa to have served while Nelson Mandela was president.
Joseph was emissary to South Africa at a time of mass transformation, and he witnessed Mandela’s leadership unfold.
As a result of his service, Joseph was presented with the Order of Good Hope by former South African President Thabo Mbeki in 1999, the highest honor a non-citizen can receive.
After working with Mandela, and seeing the way he led South Africa, Joseph realized there was a dearth of competent leaders, but he vowed to change that.
“I saw around me a leadership deficit. … That is what caused me, after completing my tour of duty in South Africa to say, ‘What I want to do next is I want to work with leaders and I want to help to develop the next generation of major leaders,'” Joseph said.
Joseph, who spoke Thursday at the University of Georgia Chapel, pioneered an emerging leaders program that partnered the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa, with Duke University, where Joseph works as a professor.
“I think for the program to be effective you’ve got to find a way of identifying people who are already leaders, who have the potential to grow to higher leadership roles, but who also have the values that you’re looking for,” Joseph said.
In Joseph’s speech, “Leadership as a Way of Being: Reflections on Nelson Mandela, Servant Leadership and Personal Renewal,” he spoke about how to cultivate leaders.
“People can unite other people,” Joseph said. “People for whom the first commitment is the commitment to serve, and leadership is what follows.”
Joseph emphasized that it is crucial for leaders to possess a moral intelligence if they intend to lead.
“Moral intelligence encompasses both what people should demand of their leaders and what their leaders should demand of them,” Joseph said.
Joseph comes to UGA through the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development and the Willson Center for Humanities & Arts.
Matthew Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute, said Joseph brings a wealth of knowledge and experience for Fanning to draw from, including his experience as chairman on the board of directors for the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation.
“With the ambassador’s experience in South Africa, his experience in Louisiana, with establishing a curriculum around leadership as a way of being, we hope that his talk will serve as a catalyst for us really pulling together some resources and some rigourous thought around how to manifest this as a program for Fanning,” Bishop said.
Richard McCline, senior public service associate at Fanning, has worked with Joseph in Louisiana on the Disaster Recovery Foundation.
“The Fanning institute is the forefront of leadership on our campus,” McCline said. “We think it’s not important to just do what people have already done, but to look at new developing trends in leadership.”
Joseph said he hopes programs like the one he developed at Cape Town and Duke, and the one the Fanning Institute hopes to incorporate, will remedy the lack of leaders.
“What you do is try to cultivate their thinking, their feeling, in such a way that they raise the right questions, that they know how to make a moral decision, they know how to deal with moral dilemmas, and first of all, they work on their interior, rather than just the external environment,” Joseph said.
But his most important advice for emerging leaders is to remember “hope is as big as a gift as life itself.”